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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

To Ireland, I

Paul Muldoon

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To purchase To Ireland, I

Title: To Ireland, I
Author: Paul Muldoon
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2000)
Length: 136 pages
Availability: To Ireland, I - US
To Ireland, I - UK
  • The Clarendon Lectures in English Literature 1998

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Our Assessment:

B : ambitious alphabetical survey (and more) of Irish literature, not entirely convincing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A 18/8/2000 Andrew Biswell
The Independent B+ 30/8/2000 Michael Glover
Irish Times . 25/8/2000 Gerald Dawe
London Rev. of Books . 18/5/2000 David Wheatley
TLS . 2/6/2000 Clair Wills

  From the Reviews:
  • "Above all, Muldoon’s history speaks of the pleasures of reading, and of making connections between different poets and languages and historical periods. The book’s alphabetical arrangement means that we are forced to hop promiscuously between centuries, giving the impression that the concerns of contemporary Ireland are inseparable from the past." - Andrew Biswell, Daily Telegraph

  • "Throughout these lectures, the authorial voice is surprisingly unemphatic -- as "liminal" as any of the authors it is considering. The manner of address is highly personal, a world away from the hortatory manner of the public lecture. This is refreshing. It is also troubling. It undermines the seriousness of the argument because it suggests that this whole exercise may, after all, be a tease." - Michael Glover, The Independent

  • "It is refreshing to read this tricksy collection of four lectures delivered by the current Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Paul Muldoon, because he is way offside, bouncing around with every kind of hunch, suggestion, allusion, illusion, might-have-been, might-be, entertaining some relation or guess, conjuring up whatever association or downright dodgy possibility that is imaginable. When all fruits fail, try the subliminal." - Gerald Dawe, Irish Times

  • "It is not the poem or story which is the unit of analysis here, and frequently not even the stanza, the sentence, or the word. Rather, in a technique familiar from Muldoon's poetry, it is the letters which hold everything together. Somehow this idiosyncrasy leads to insight. (...) There is something irreducibly esoteric about this trip through the weird and wonderful land of Irish letters, and the quirkiness, bordering on whimsy, will no doubt alienate many readers. This is unfortunate, because the book also contains some of Muldoon's most forthright reflections to date on the relations of history, literature and politics." - Clair Wills, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       To Ireland, I collects the four Clarendon Lectures Paul Muldoon gave at Oxford in 1998. It is a broad survey of Irish literature, presented alphabetically in short sections, each devoted to a writer -- Amergin to Zozimus. It is not meant as definitive history, or even as a comprehensive survey (Seamus Heaney is only one of the prominent authors who receive no mention). No, Muldoon has other things in mind, linking up the authors and examples in a bright, complex, spotted tapestry of Irish literature.
       At the center is Joyce, most specifically (though not exclusively) the story The Dead ("I want to suggest, though, that Ferguson's Congal, as well as a number of the other texts I've already mentioned here, are significant feeder-springs into the great reservoir of Joyce's short story 'The Dead'"). It is this that ties many of the authors and examples together, but Muldoon also strays farther about in presenting his broad look at Irish literature.
       Connections are everything, as Muldoon dizzyingly connects the dots. From Amergin -- "the first poet of Ireland" --, a guiding light for much that follows, Muldoon proceeds like a snowball careening down a slope, growing and bursting apart and setting other snowballs rolling until it is all an avalanche roaring down the mountain. Once it is all at rest, the book read, it takes a while to sort it all out again.
       The alphabetical approach is an odd one, and necessarily prevents a neat unfolding of arguments. Amergin makes for a good beginning, but then it proceeds in fits and starts. AE, (William) Allingham, Anonymous, (Samuel) Beckett, (Elizabeth) Bowen, (William) Carleton, and so on. There are unexpected appearances: Gothics Maria Edgeworth and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, C.S.Lewis ((mis)identified in the 1998 Irish Almanac and Yearbook of Facts as the "father of actor Daniel Day Lewis", Muldoon notes with amusement), and "The 'X' Factor". There are also a number of relative unknowns, as well as the truly obscure.
       It is an interesting mix of authors, and Muldoon does unearth some verse and some descriptions that one is unlikely to have come across which he effectively ties into the book. The longest entries are generally devoted to the expected masters -- Joyce, Beckett, Laurence Sterne -- but some of the lesser-known authors also get considerable space -- so for example Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. Connections are established all over, often convincingly, sometimes not. A great deal of artifice hangs over this volume, and yet that too is part of the point.
       Even apart from his grander designs Muldoon makes some interesting points and offers some fascinating asides (though not all are clever -- so, for example, his choice of where to place his thanks and acknowledgements). He chooses well in selecting the quotes and examples, and one can imagine the lively lecturing of the poet when he originally presented these pieces.
       To Ireland, I -- the title is taken from Macbeth (King Duncan's son Malcolm says "I'll to England" and Donalbain says "To Ireland, I") -- is a quirky and playful book, much as one might expect from Muldoon. It complements his own poetry (well aware of tradition, but always experimenting), without giving too much away. It is also a different view of Irish literature than one might be used to, and valuable for that additional perspective. Nevertheless, it also tries perhaps too much, and does not present it clearly enough. Following the connections can be fun, but it can also be arduous and is, here (where the connections are stretched to some extremes and often tenuously (if forcefully) linked), not always satisfying
       Worthwhile, but readers should be aware of what they are in for.

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To Ireland, I: Paul Muldoon: Other books by Paul Muldoon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       (Northern) Irish poet Paul Muldoon was born in 1951. He has written several collections of poetry and opera libretti. He has become a citizen of the United States and currently teaches at Princeton University and at Oxford.

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