William Allingham Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Although known primarily as a poet of light lyrics, William Allingham also wrote prose pieces and a diary. Few would deny that William Allingham: A Diary (1907) is one of the best literary diaries of the Victorian period. Primarily a product of his English years, it records conversations and encounters with an impressive array of eminent Victorian personalities. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Thomas Carlyle were intimates, and there is much about Robert Browning and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Allingham’s formal prose turns out to be surprisingly substantial. Starting in 1867, he wrote more than twenty travelogues for Fraser’s Magazine. Narrated under the pseudonym Patricius Walker, the travelogues are notable for their expository emphasis. The traveler will sometimes pass opinion on what he has seen in his wanderings (Wales, Scotland, provincial England, parts of the Continent), but for the most part, he concentrates on describing scenery and reporting local customs and historical tidbits about the area. A selection of these pieces was later issued as Rambles (1873), while most of them were collected in the first two volumes of a posthumously published edition of his prose. The third volume of this work, Varieties in Prose (1893), contains Irish sketches and literary criticism.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

William Allingham deserves the elusive label “Anglo-Irish.” His reputation as a minor Victorian poet is largely the result of the popularity of a few frequently anthologized poems of Irish inspiration, subject matter, and sentiment. Like so many other “minor” literary figures, however, his historical significance goes beyond his accomplishment in any single genre. His foremost achievement is in lyric poetry. He had a knack for spinning songs and ballads. The most famous of these is “The Fairies,” a delightful children’s rhyme about the elvish world, which inevitably appears in anthologies of Irish verse. Also frequently anthologized is “The Winding Banks of Erne,” a tender farewell to Ireland from an emigrant as he sets sail for the New World. Over the years, these two favorites have been included in most of the standard collections of Irish verse: Stopford A. Brooke and T. W. Rolleston’s (1900), Padraic Colum’s (1922), Lennox Robinson and Donagh MacDonagh’s (1958), and Devin Garrity’s (1965), among others. To complete their selection from Allingham’s work, editors often include lyrics such as “A Dream” and “Four Ducks on a Pond,” and ballads such as “Abbey Asaroe” and “The Maids of Elfin Mere.”

A dozen or so preservable short poems from a canon of several hundred does not seem to be a very significant achievement. The quality of these poems is sufficiently high, however, to secure at least a minor position in Irish poetry, and, when he is considered in the light of Irish literary history, Allingham’s stature grows substantially. As Ernest Boyd points out in Ireland’s Literary Renaissance (1916), the third quarter of the nineteenth century was a transitional period in Irish literature, sandwiched between an earlier period of predominantly political verse and the later full renaissance led by William Butler Yeats and his circle. During this transitional period, there appeared a few poets who, though not of the first rank, were nevertheless serious, competent artists who celebrated Irish themes without lapsing into propaganda. Allingham was one of these, ranking alongside Aubry de Vere and just below Samuel Ferguson in importance. A country seeking to establish its cultural identity cannot afford to overlook the literary accomplishments of any of its native citizens....

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Cronin, Anthony. Heritage Now: Irish Literature in the English Language. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. An excellent, concise review of Allingham’s life, work, and importance in the poetic canon. The significance of Allingham’s Irish heritage and his love of London are well explained and vividly rendered. Cronin also includes assessments of Allingham’s poetry by his contemporaries.

Howe, M. L. “Notes on the Allingham Canon.” Philological Quarterly 12 (July, 1933): 290-297. Howe offers a distinctly personal critique of Allingham’s work. He defends “The Fairies” from critics who labeled it hastily written, reveals the history behind “The Maids of Elfinmere,” and untangles the relationships between Allingham, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Morris. Howe also effectively argues the importance and grace of Allingham’s overlooked dramas, essays, and short poems.

Hughes, Linda K. “The Poetics of Empire and Resistance: William Allingham’s Lawrence Bloomfield in Ireland.” Victorian Poetry 28, no. 2 (Summer, 1990): 103. Allingham’s long narrative poem is discussed and analyzed in relation to the history of the English and the Irish peasants.

Husni, Samira Aghacy. “Incorrect References to William Allingham.” Notes and Queries 30 (August, 1983): 296-298. An...

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