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This review is taken from PN Review 11, Volume 6 Number 3, January - February 1980.

POEMS LIKE CHRYSANTHEMUMS Richard Murphy, Selected Poems (Faber) £1.95

"Every man everywhere is more of his age than of his nation," said Yeats, with characteristic reserve; but most recent Irish poetry has insistently rooted itself in a territory. The poetry with which most of us in England are probably most familiar is rooted in a territory that is Northern and, in the main, Catholic. Richard Murphy, Southern and Protestant, is necessarily outside this "tradition"; but his best work, "The Battle of Aughrim", is as directly concerned with the confrontation between a painfully articulate self and the confusions of its historical and cultural heritage as the best work of the Northern writers. In this marvellous poem Murphy makes explicit what is implicit in the work of Seamus Heaney and of John Montague, that "The past is happening today" and that "The battle cause . . . Has a beginning in my blood". He handles this "Matter of Ireland", however, not through mythologizing, or through direct autobiography, but through a kind of meditative narrative, in which the present is made to comment obliquely and ironically on a recounted past event. The poem is characterized by great rhetorical restraint and by a terrible violent simplicity of imagery:


A wolfhound sits under a wild ash
Licking the wound in a dead ensign's neck . . .

His ear pricks like a crimson leaf on snow,
The horse-carts creak away.


But it is peculiarly and badly represented here by only a ...


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