A celebration of the tenacious life of the enduring Irish classics, this book by one of Irish writing’s most eloquent readers offers a brilliant and accessible survey of the greatest works since 1600 in Gaelic and English, which together have shaped one of the world’s most original literary cultures.
In the course of his discussion of the great seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Gaelic poems of dispossession, and of later work in that language that refuses to die, Declan Kiberd provides vivid and idiomatic translations that bring the Irish texts alive for the English-speaking reader.
Extending from the Irish poets who confronted modernity as a cataclysm, and who responded by using traditional forms in novel and radical ways, to the great modern practitioners of such paradoxically conservative and revolutionary writing, Kiberd’s work embraces three sorts of Irish classics: those of awesome beauty and internal rigor, such as works by the Gaelic bards, Yeats, Synge, Beckett, and Joyce; those that generate a myth so powerful as to obscure the individual writer and unleash an almost superhuman force, such as the Cuchulain story, the lament for Art O’Laoghaire, and even Dracula; and those whose power exerts a palpable influence on the course of human action, such as Swift’s Drapier’s Letters, the speeches of Edmund Burke, or the autobiography of Wolfe Tone. The book closes with a moving and daring coda on the Anglo-Irish agreement, claiming that the seeds of such a settlement were sown in the works of Irish literature.
A delight to read throughout, Irish Classics is a fitting tribute to the works it reads so well and inspires us to read, and read again.