Bernard O’Donoghue


Life
1945 - ; b. Knockduff [Cullen], Co. Cork; son of an English women, history teacher, and a farmer father, who travelled in Munster selling insurance; read much at Carnegie Library, Millstreet, Cork; spent some months living with aunts after the death of his father, then joined his mother in Manchester, where she was working; studied English at Lincoln College, Oxford; briefly worked as computer analyst for IBM, Manchester;
 
returned to Lincoln for post-graduate work on medieval poetry; English post in Magdalen; associated with Roy Fuller who put his first poems in print; issued Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry (1994), and received dedication of Seamus Heaney’s Redress of Poetry, 1995; elected Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, 1995; poetry collections include The Absent Signifier (Mandeville Press 1990); The Weakness (1991); winner of Southern Arts Award, 1991; issued Gunpowder (1995), short-listed for T. S. Eliot Award and winner of Whitbread Prize for Poetry (£2,000);
 
guest writer at Kerry International Summer School, Aug. 1996; issued Here nor There (1999), becoming Poetry Book Society choice; succeeded Ron Schuchard as Director of the W. B. Yeats Summer School (Sligo); a frequent reviewer in The Irish Times; issued Outliving (2003), poems; issued translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2006); Dean and Fellow of Linacre College, a scholar in Icelandic (Norse) literature; frequent reviewer of Irish poetry in Times Literary Supplement, et al; married to Heather O’Donoghue.

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Works
Poetry
  • Razorblades and Pencils (Oxford: Sycamore 1984), [17]pp.;
  • Poaching Rights (Dublin: Gallery Press 1987), 32pp.;
  • The Absent Signifier (Hitchin: Mandeville 1990), [20]pp. [ltd. edn. 250 copies];
  • The Weakness (London: Chatto & Windus 1991), 80pp., pb.;
  • Gunpowder (London: Chatto & Windus 1995), 56pp.;
  • Here Nor There (London: Chatto & Windus 1999), [10], 52pp.;
  • Outliving (London: Chatto & Windus 2003), 64pp.;
  • Selected Poems (London: Faber & Faber 2008), 117pp.
  • Farmer’s Cross London: Faber & Faber 2011), 55pp.
 
Criticism
  • Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf 1994), 173pp. [see contents under Heaney, Criticism - as attached].
  • ed. & intro., Selected Poems of Thomas Hoccleve (Manchester: Fyfield 1982) 104pp.;
  • ed. [& sel.], The Courtly Love Tradition [Literature in Context] (Manchester UP 1982), vi, 314pp.;
  • with C.M. Woolgar, Recently Discovered Lyrics: Two Middle English Poems at Magdalen College, Oxford (Oxford: Society for the Study of Mediaeval Languages & Literature 1983);
  • ed., Oxford Irish Quotations (Oxford: OUP 1999), pb.;
  • Intro., Tony Harrison, Plays One: The Mysteries [Contemporary Classics] (London: Faber & Faber 1999), 229pp.;
  • ed. Oxford Irish Quotations (OUP 1999), 297pp. [over 2,000 quotations thematically arranged];
  • ed., with David Constantine, Hermione Lee, Oxford Poets 2000: An Anthology [Oxford Poets] (Manchester: Carcanet, 2000) 125pp.;
  • ed., with Anne Berkeley & Angelo di Cintio, Rebecca Elson, A Responsibility to Awe [Oxford Poets] (Manchester: Carcanet, 2001) 159pp.
  • ed. The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney (Cambridge UP 2009) [see contents under Heaney, Criticism - as attached].
Translation
  • A Stay in a Sanatorium & Other Poems by Zbyneck Hejda, trans. from Czech by Bernard O'Donoghue from versions by Simon Dani´cek. (Cork: Southword Editions 2005), 64pp.;
  • trans. & intro., Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ([Penguin Classics] (London: Penguin 2006, xxvi, 94pp. 
 
Journals contribs. (poems)
  • “Timmy Buckley Observes the Pleiades” [poem], in Times Literary Supplement (19 April 1996), p.5;
  • “Hermes” [poem] Times Literary Supplement ([q.d.] July 1998);
  • “The Potato Gatherers”, poem incl. in Adrian Rice & Angela Reid, eds., A Conversation Piece (Nat. Museums & Galleries of N. Ireland [2002]), and rep. in The Irish Times (29 June 2002);
  • “Visiting the Birthplace of Aodhágan Ó Rathaille”, in Times Literary Supplement (26 July 2002), p.4 [infra].
 
Reviews (selected)
  • review of Peter Dronke, Dante’s Second Love: the originality and the contexts of the Convivio (Leeds UP ?1997), and Sources of Inspiration: Studies in literary transformation 400-1500 (Rome: Edizioni di storia e litteratura [1997]);
  • review of Paul Muldoon and other poets, in Times Literary Supplement, [Irish issue], 29 June 2001, p.9-10;
  • review of Thomas Kinsella, Collected Poems, and Michael Hartnett, Collected Poems, in The Irish Times ([3] Nov. 2001), Weekend;
  • review of Peter Sirr, Selected Poems and Nonetheless, in The Irish Times (23 May 2005), Weekend [see under Sirr, infra].

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Criticism
  • Interview with O’Donoghue in Irish Times [March] 1996; also poem, “The Owl’s at Willie Mac’s”, in Times Literary Supplement (3 May 1996), p.20;
  • Andrew Biswell, ‘A Shard of Cork in his Palm’, review of Gunpowder, in Times Literary Supplement (5 Jan.1996), p.22 [refers to previous and first book Weakness (1991)];
  • Penelope Dening, interview with Bernard O’Donoghue, in The Irish Times (23 Jan. 1996), p.10;
  • Seamus Heaney, review of O’Donoghue’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in The Irish Times (23 Dec. 2006), Weekend [extract].
  • [...]
  • Bookgeek interview, at Bookgeeks [online; accessed 02.07.2-2011].

See Cork Literary Review (2009), which includes an article by the editor Eugene O’Connell on the topography of O’Donoghue’s poems - remarking that Cork was an ‘open laboratory’ for O’Donoghue as a medievalist ‘seep[ing] seamlessly into a poetry that filters a 21st-century sensibility through a medieval mindset’. Also, in this issue a reprint of the poem Hermes and a review review of O’Donoghue’s Selected Poems  by Maurice Harmon.

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Commentary
Terence Killen
, review of Gunpowder, in Irish Reporter (4th Quarter 1995), p.29; identifies poems, “Second Class Relics”; “A Good Constitution”; “The Great Famine”; “Fighting Over the Water”; speaks of modesty and self-imposed limitations.

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Pat Boran, review of Outliving, in The Irish Times (17 May 2003), Weekend Review, p.12: ‘[...] his usually very short and precise poems are often centred on minor incidents in the lives of neighbours and half-acquaintances. Returned to and retold, these reveal new meanings through the benefit of hindsight. / Yet O’Donoghue is anything but a nostalgic Irishman abroad, yearning for the auld sod. In poems that have at least one foot in the past there is, too, the kind of dangerous, vertiginous draw that Oisin must have felt revisiting his own Tír na nÓg. [...] A master of creating depth of meaning through the juxtaposition of anecdote, myths and fable (hardly surprising in one whose scholarly life is concerned with medieval literature), O’Donoghue is also Outliving in yet a third sense. Through the characters his poems remember and perhaps sometimes even create, he can step out of his own existence and, in the lives and experiences of others, find and explore the only common ground that means anything.’ (See full text, infra.)

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Seamus Heaney, ‘[...] Scholar, gentleman and poet, O’Donoghue was the ideal choice for a job requiring knowledge of the text, knowledge of the courtly Christian culture that produced it (among other things, it is a handbook of courtesy) and knowledge of the extraordinarily rich and rare Middle English in which it is written. At Oxford University he has been teaching the poem in the original for decades, and from his own work it has long been evident that he has what it takes to deliver a verse translation. He possesses what Auden regarded as the two necessary poetic qualifications - the capacity to be “bewildered and happy” and “most of all, the knowledge of life”. / The poem itself is by turns bewildering, happy and knowledgeable. It comes out of the great tradition of Arthurian romance, combining the “natural magic” of Celtic nature poetry with the highly developed conventions of knightly chivalry. It is the work of an artist completely in control of his material, playing with it as resourcefully as a Shakespeare or a seanachaí. Anonymous he may have been, but he was still capable of producing a masterpiece that has about it the uncanniness of an aisling and (as O’Donoghue observes) the irony and common sense of a Don Quixote.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Bookgeeks interview: ‘[...] The book I most wish I had written: it’s a difficult question because for various reasons – laziness, lack of seriousness and application, and so on – there aren’t many books I could imagine myself having the energy and dedication to write. I mean to write Dante you’d have to be Dante – and you wouldn’t want that, much less aspire to it. I’d quite like to have written Italo Svevo’s The Confessions of Zeno. That is deeply sympathetic and somehow within the compass of a normal person. Lots of individual poems it would be great to have written: Yeats’s “Broken Dreams”, Heaney’s Clonmacnoise poem, lots of Donne’s Elegies. But that’s just saying what my favourite poems are. (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Quotations
Everybody Loves Pat Boone’, a poem, in Times Literary Supplement (30 Nov. 2001): ‘The painful glamour of male childhood was / The elder sisters’ friends. … Friend of a friend, whose silver tongue / Made that confident and adult judgement: / “Everybody loves Pat Boone”.’

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Visiting the Birthplace of Aodhágan Ó Rathaille”: ‘We got directions from a man in socks / asleep in front of “Coronation Street” / who followed us to the door with a kind / of generous wistfulness, and then worked our way / up along the mountain road past Lisheen Cross / to reach the place itself, easily known / by its limestone monument. We set to, / taking photographs from different angles, / getting as much fuchsia in as possible / and were just setting off (we had / a boat to catch) when the sound of a car / distracted us. It was audible long before / it rolled around the bend towards us / without benefit of silencer. I knew / the driver from somewhere and he knew me / as a friend. “Come here”, he said with urgency, / “I have something to show you.” We climbed / through holly and early blackberries / into a small garden, in front of broken windows / and followed him through the jagged glass / into a restored room: new orange plaster, / radiators and power-points. “The lads going home from school throw stones at it. / Because it’s empty they think it’s nobody’s. / Once they lit a fire on the new boards below. / What kind of neighbours is it we have at all?” // I wasn’t sure what to suggest, or any way / that we might help. He’d told the Guards / but they weren’t interested. He’d sell it / if he could, but who would buy it now, / this half-wrecked bit of renovation? / It was coming on to rain, and time for us / to go, so he backed out of the way, / into the field-gap by the monument. / And as we drove back down towards Béal na Díge / I wondered who would want to fix a house / in that wet place of all earthly places.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 26 July 2002, p.4.)

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The Old Graveyard”; ‘It still commands the best view from the village, / across the unkempt pitch-and-putt course / to the river. The stone wall, perfectly jointed / at the corners, was built - or so they say / by Dan Hugh, the mason-poet, from the ruins / of the Benedictine church that dated from / the seventh century. To read inscriptions / the Americans spray shaving-foam, trying / to bring to light the names of ancestors. / In autumn when they’ve gone back to resume / their duties, in New England or Chicago, / the cosmetic blear still discolours the stone.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 20 May 2005, p.9.)

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The Quest for Beatrice’, review of Peter Dronke, Dante’s Second Love: the Originality and the contexts of the Convivio (Leeds UP 1997), 76pp., and his Sources of Inspiration: Studies in literary transformations 400-1500 (Rome: Edizione di storia e letteratura 1997), 409pp. in Times Literary Supplement (21. Nov. 1997), [q.p.]; ranks the author with the great pan-European philologists-critics such as Curtius, Leo Spitzer, and Auerbach; notes that Sources of Inspiration proposes that many passages in Patrick’s Confessio echo distinctive rhetorical, syntactic and rhythmic patters in Augustine’s Confessions: notes as “a group of specific sentences and phrases, of the kind that scholars have always argued about”, but by having “imprinted themselves in Patrick’s memory, or in his subconscious mind”; comments that this might sound unduly impressionistic but that the method is richly earned by the rigorous concentration on lyrical form and language that always supports it [in this critic].

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The Necessary Man’, long review of The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, ed. Warwick Gould, John Kelly, and Deirdre Toomey (OUP 1997), in Times Literary Supplement (5 Dec. 1997), [q.pp.]: ‘Yeats was determinedly following artistic, political and personal courses that now appear wayward, and must have seemed unpredictable at the time’; ‘slightly grubby literary disputes in Ireland’; Yeats wrote to John O’Leary of ‘that aristocratic, esoteric literature’ needed when ‘we have a literature for the people but nothing yet for the few’; quotes editors’ remark that the primitive state of Yeats’s housekeeping in London meant that Lady Gregory ‘took care to bring her own sandwiches, while the letters speak of hampers of food including Bovril and champagne supplied by her to sustain the poet.’

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Concordiam in Populo”: ‘And Duncan’s horses ... ’Tis said they ate each other’ [epigraph]. ‘After the heart attack, prodigious events / Took place: neighbours who hadn’t talked / For twenty years, because of trees cut down, / Horses gone lame, or cattle straying, / Cooperated in organizing lifts / To make arrangements for the funeral. // Husbands who’d not addressed a civil word / To wives for even longer referred to them / By christian name in everybody’s hearing: / Lizzie or Julanne or Nora May. / The morning of the burial it rained and rained, / And we all huddled close by the graveside, / Trusting one another, small differences / Set aside, just as Kate had told us once / How she crept into bed when the thunder seemed / To throw giant wooden boxes at the house, / Beside the husband that she hadn’t spoken to / Since the first month after their sorry wedding.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 16 Aug. 2002, p.28.)

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References
Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “A Nun Takes the Veil” [304]; “The Weakness” [305]

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Notes
Seamus Heaney’s The Redress of Poetry (London: Faber & Faber 1995) is dedicated to O’Donoghue.

Special thanks: O’Donoghue is offered particular thanks for revision of the Middle English entries in Drabble, ed, Oxford Companion to English Literature (1989).

Translation Cork: Cork poets incl. Bernard O’Donoghue, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Theo Dorgan, Greg Delanty, Robert Welch, participated in Cork 2005 European translation series directed by Pat Cotter of the Munster Literature Centre.

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