(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In his excellent introduction to The Living Torch, Monk Gibbon remarks that Æ’s poetry began as that of a mystic and remained so to the end. Æ saw the poet not as an artisan of beauty but rather as a seer and prophet who derived a special authority from communion with the esoteric wisdom of the past. As Gibbon points out, Æ’s poetry contains a beauty of thought and a sincerity of utterance, but in some poems, the form seems inadequate and the imagery vague.

Like other poets in the Irish Renaissance, Æ attempted to define Irishness in terms of the mysticism, reverie, and wavering rhythms of the Celtic Twilight, but his poetic voice remained a faint one. Some of Æ’s best poetry is contained in his first two books: Homeward and The Earth Breath, and Other Poems. Some of his late work is also very good, but it is marred by a tendency to philosophize.

Æ will continue to have a place in literary history, but his prose and poetry are comparable only to the best imaginative work of the secondary figures of his day. Æ survives not as a painter or poet but as an exemplar of his age.


Æ’s philosophy includes a pantheistic adoration of nature, and he argues that the important thing about Ireland is the primitiveness of the country and its people. The very title of Homeward indicates the author’s attitude toward life. Ernest Boyd in his Appreciations and Depreciations: Irish Literary Studies (1918) has stated that “home” for Æ signifies the return of the soul to the oversoul, the spirit’s absorption into the universal spirit—a doctrine that reflects his interest in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.

Homeward is a narrative of Æ’s spiritual adventures, a record of the soul’s search for the Infinite. Æ’s poems are songs with sensuous, unearthly notes, records of the inner music of his life. They do not speak of humankind’s mundane experiences but rather of those moments of divine vision and intuition when...

(The entire section is 849 words.)