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Sacrifice and Modern War LiteratureThe Battle of Waterloo to the War on Terror$
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Alex Houen and Jan-Melissa Schramm

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198806516

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198806516.001.0001

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‘Atrocities against his Sacred Poet’

‘Atrocities against his Sacred Poet’

The Orpheus Myth and the Poetry of the Northern Irish Troubles

(p.222) 14 ‘Atrocities against his Sacred Poet’
Sacrifice and Modern War Literature

David Wheatley

Oxford University Press

In The Midnight Verdict (1993), Seamus Heaney combines extracts from two texts taking the poet into the underworld: Ovid’s description in Metamorphoses of Orpheus’ pursuit of Eurydice and subsequent death, and Brian Merriman’s Cúirt an Mheán-Oídhche (The Midnight Court). As a poet of conflict, Heaney was forced to produce his art amid hostile crossfire. Heaney’s fellow Northern Irish poet Derek Mahon draws heavily on ironized self-sacrifice as a response to conflict in his ‘Rage for Order’ (1979). When Thomas Kinsella attempts to tackle the Northern Irish Troubles by apportioning blame to guilty parties, in Butcher’s Dozen (1972), his response to Bloody Sunday, the results are uneven. In a series of readings centred on themes of gender and the self-representation of the poet, this chapter identifies what redress Heaney, Mahon, and Kinsella find for the ‘the atrocities against his sacred poet’ of which Bacchus complains in The Midnight Verdict.

Keywords:   Northern Irish Troubles, Bloody Sunday, self-sacrifice, gender, guilt, Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Thomas Kinsella, lyric poetry, Orpheus

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