Michael Longley Critical Essays

Introduction

Michael Longley 1939–

Irish poet, critic, and editor.

Longley is one of the respected "Ulster Poets" who helped revitalize poetry in Northern Ireland during the 1960s. Along with Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon, Longley has won praise for composing finely honed verse that is rich in imagery and striking in its clarity. The three poets all initially concerned themselves with such traditional subject matter as love and nature and used conventional poetic forms and structures through which they established their individual voices and identities. Longley has been overshadowed somewhat by Heaney and Mahon because his development has been more gradual. But with the publication of Selected Poems: 1963–1980 (1981), many critics feel Longley has won his place as a consistent and distinguished poet.

With the volume No Continuing City (1969), Longley, in the words of Alan Brownjohn, made an "honourable" rather than an "exciting" debut. The poems reveal a preoccupation with form and favor the ordering of experience through intellect. While some critics complimented Longley's disciplined verse, others found this volume unemotional. An Exploded View (1973), Longley's next volume, strengthened his reputation as a fine craftsman. He won further respect for broadening the themes of his poetry, dealing for the first time with such subjects as the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. A major concern in his poetry, artistic identity, is investigated in several poems in which he wonders about the poet's relationship to the violence around him. Critics appreciated the way in which Longley's tight, formal verse structure presents and contends with chaos. In addition, Longley's poems on nature and love were praised for their tenderness.

The Echo Gate (1979) has been viewed as Longley's most important collection. Many critics believe that Longley's emphasis on learning his craft in order to free his imagination is fully realized in this volume. Here he attempts to achieve a balance between stability and flux, sense and sensation. These poems are considered more emotional than previous works, and they emphasize affirmation and mutability. Critics were most impressed with Longley's view of the poet as a reintegrating force in an unstable world.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 102.)