Austin Clarke Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Austin Clarke was most prolific as a poet; all his dramatic writings are also in verse form. Between 1917, when his first major poem, the narrative epic The Vengeance of Fionn, was issued by Maunsel in Dublin and London, and 1974, when his Collected Poems appeared just before his death, Clarke published numerous books of nondramatic verse as well as many individual poems. Selected Poems, edited and introduced by Thomas Kinsella, was published posthumously in 1976.

In addition to his dramatic verse, Clarke wrote in a variety of poetic genres—narrative epic poems, satires and epigrams, religious poems, confessional and meditative works, and erotic and love poetry. He also translated poems from the Gaelic. The subjects of his poetry—though diverse in some ways—are all related to aspects of Irish life and Irish culture, past and present.

Clarke wrote three novels, The Bright Temptation (1932), The Singing Men at Cashel (1936), and The Sun Dances at Easter (1952). Although these works are in the form of prose romance, full of adventure and fantasy, they also express Clarke’s preoccupation with the problems of the development of the individual within the limits imposed by society, specifically Irish society. All three novels were banned at publication by the Irish Free State government. The Bright Temptation was reissued in 1973, but copies of Clarke’s other two novels have virtually disappeared.

Besides poetry and novels, Clarke produced three book-length memoirs: First Visit to England and Other Memories (1945), Twice ’Round the Black Church: Early Memories of Ireland and England (1962), and A Penny in the Clouds: More Memories of Ireland and England (1968). These books offer important insight into Clarke’s development as a major writer in twentieth century Ireland.

Finally, Clarke was a prolific journalist, a frequent contributor of essays, reviews, and criticism to several major publications: The Daily News and Leader (London; which later became The News Chronicle), The Spectator, and The Irish Times. Between 1940 and 1973, he contributed more than a thousand articles on both narrowly literary as well as wide-ranging nonliterary topics to The Irish Times. Clarke also wrote longer prose pieces for The Dublin Magazine and The Bell.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In the judgment of many critics of Irish literature, Austin Clarke was the most important of the poets of the generation of Irish writers after William Butler Yeats. As a poet, Clarke’s achievements are impressive. He wrote almost exclusively of Irish themes, myth, tradition, and history, and his own experience of Irish life and culture. Indeed, he has been called the “arch poet of Dublin,” and his commitment to Gaelic poetic forms and prosody—assonantal patterns, vowel rhymes, tonic words—helped revise and preserve that poetic tradition.

Clarke was also a significant force in the revival of verse drama in Ireland. In 1941, partly as a vehicle for performance of his own dramatic writings, Clarke, with Robert Farren, founded the Dublin Verse-Speaking Society , which performed on Radio Éireann and at the Abbey Theatre. In 1944, he and Farren founded the Lyric Theatre Company , which presented plays in verse form at the Abbey until the disastrous fire there in 1951.

Clarke was a prolific man of letters, publishing a large amount of nonfiction and criticism for more than four decades in such respected outlets as The Bell, The Dublin Magazine, and The Irish Times. Clarke’s founding of a private small press, the Bridge Press, inspired other Irish writers to found small presses of their own that were later influential in the resurgence of Irish writing in the 1960’s and 1970’s. For thirteen years, Clarke...

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Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Besides his epic, narrative, and lyric poetry, Austin Clarke published three novels, two volumes of autobiography, some twenty verse plays, and a large volume of journalistic essays and literary reviews for newspaper and radio. He also delivered a number of radio lectures on literary topics and gave interviews on his own life and work on Irish radio and television.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In a poetic career that spanned more than fifty years, Austin Clarke was a leading figure in the “second generation” of the Irish Literary Revival (also known as the Celtic Revival). Most of his career can be understood as a response to the aims of that movement: to celebrate the heroic legends of ancient Ireland, to bring the compositional technique of the bardic poets into modern English verse, and to bring poetry and humor together in a socially liberating way on the modern stage.

Clarke’s earliest efforts to write epic poems on pre-Christian Ireland were not generally successful, although his first poems do have passages of startling color and lyric beauty that presage his later work. When, in the 1930’s, he turned to early medieval (“Celtic Romanesque”) Ireland, he found his métier, both in poetry and in fiction. To the celebration of the myth of a vigorous indigenous culture in which Christian ascetic and pagan hedonist coexisted, he bent his own disciplined efforts. Unlike William Butler Yeats and most of the leading writers of the Revival, Clarke had direct access to the language of the ancient literature and worked to reproduce its rich sound in modern English. In this effort he was uniquely successful among modern Irish poets.

In his later years, Clarke turned to satirizing the domestic scene, living to see cultural changes remedy many of his complaints about Irish life. Although he wrote in obscurity through most of his career, in his later life, Clarke was belatedly recognized by several institutions: He was awarded an honorary D.Litt. in 1966 from Trinity College, received the Gregory Medal in 1968 from the Irish Academy of Letters, and was the “Writer in Profile” on Radio Telifís Éireann in 1968.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Algoo-Baksh, Stella. Austin C. Clarke: A Biography. Toronto: ECW Press, 1994. Combines a narrative of Austin Clarke’s life with thoughtful interpretations of some of his major works. Gives a portrait of Clarke’s puplic persona but few details of his personal life. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Corcoran, Neil. Poets of Modern Ireland. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. Contains an essay on Clarke, which while focusing on his poetic achievements, provides insight into his verse plays.

Garratt, Robert F. Modern Irish Poetry: Tradition Continuity from Yeats to Heaney. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. This important book devotes a chapter to Clarke, the main figure of transition for twentieth century Irish poetry. Clarke’s early poetry followed William Butler Yeats in retelling Irish myths, his middle work focused on medievalism, and his later poems echoed James Joyce in their critical analysis of religion. Contains an index and select bibliography that includes material on Clarke.

Halpern, Susan. Austin Clarke: His Life and Work. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1974. While this survey of Clarke’s prolific output in prose and verse concentrates on the verse, Halpern does devote a chapter to Clarke’s theory and practice of drama. She discusses all Clarke’s plays and places them in the context of Clarke’s work as a whole. Substantial bibliography.


(The entire section is 643 words.)