A Chastened Communion: Modern Irish Poetry and Catholicism by Andrew J. Auge

By Andrew J. Auge

A Chastened Communion strains a brand new direction during the well-traversed box of contemporary Irish poetry by way of revealing how severe engagement with Catholicism shapes the trajectory of the poetic careers of Austin Clarke, Patrick Kavanagh, John Montague, Seamus Heaney, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Durcan, and Paula Meehan.

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The speaker, leaving the church after confession, witnesses “a cage-bird,” released into the open air, attacked and torn to pieces by a group of sparrows. In this parabolic episode, an emblem of the young poet’s own entrapment within a sexually inhibited consciousness is destroyed by a sparrow, a traditional figure of sexual licentiousness. The fact that the killing of the bird is described in musical terms—“Plucked, roof-mired, all in mad bits. ” (CPC, 200)— provides a telling reminder of the confessional poet’s quest to render his own psychic turmoil into song.

The fact that the killing of the bird is described in musical terms—“Plucked, roof-mired, all in mad bits. ” (CPC, 200)— provides a telling reminder of the confessional poet’s quest to render his own psychic turmoil into song. The difficult process of loosening the hold of a constrictive disciplinary regime over one’s psyche and poetry culminates in the final three stanzas. In the first of these, Clarke refuses the injunction to be true to the orthodox religious identity epitomized by his namesake, St.

It is only when his imagination is guided by unconscious forces, when an act of somnambulism brings him unexpectedly into the painting’s presence, that the fear it inspired suddenly dissolves. This episode, positioned at the outset of Clarke’s autobiography, serves as an apt synecdoche for a poetic career defined by the imagination’s co-optation by and resistance to the experience of panoptic surveillance institutionalized in the Catholic ritual of confession. Later in the memoir, it becomes apparent that Shakespeare’s portrait, with its seemingly omniscient gaze, is a surrogate for the actual agent of surveillance that imprinted itself upon the poet’s nascent consciousness.

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