Michael Longley Douglas Dunn - Essay

Douglas Dunn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In An Exploded View, Michael Longley] gives the impression of not wanting to take History or politics too seriously, but at the same time admitting that he has a responsibility to subjects under his nose. In "Casualty" he shows himself to be as willing as [John] Montague to fabricate a notion of the irrational-historical, and by so doing he abdicates the right to say whether contemporary events are good or bad. Like Montague, he appeals to an Unknown, a "something." All that's left of an animal cadaver that represents the body of Ireland are bones, horns and hooves….

One wonders, however, about the efficiency of the poem. It conjures up the official spectre of Ireland, elevating social realities into mysticism, into an excuse for the present. Longley and Montague both suppose themselves detectives from the Destiny they find frightening. Peter Porter has an image of poking fingers through the slits in a hoplite's helmet to frighten the cat. People can be frightened in the same way; and although one can see that poets might do this as a way of applying brakes to certain movements of feeling in their communities, in this case it does seem more like the old Celtic habit of believing in ghosts, in Montague's "dark permanence of ancient forms."

An Exploded View is usually concerned with a more recognisable version of life. Longley is a literary dandy and love poet. His most impressive gift is the natural ingenuity with which he can make images grow, construct careful narratives, and at the same time avoid an indulgence in...

(The entire section is 649 words.)