By Andrew J. Auge
A Chastened Communion lines a brand new course throughout the well-traversed box of recent Irish poetry by means of revealing how serious 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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Extra info for A Chastened Communion: Modern Irish Poetry and Catholicism
This is followed by the call for a rigorous self-monitoring that would carefully calibrate the extent of one’s concupiscence, a point highlighted by the way in which the poet skews normal syntactical order to locate the 38 | A C h a st en ed Commu n ion adverbial phrase—“how much”—in a position of greater emphasis at the end of the line. Finally, there is the way in which the practice of confession, far from repressing sexuality, cultivates a heightened awareness of it. The speaker’s premature assumption of the responsibilities associated with corporeality, together with the guilt precipitated by his failure to acknowledge the full extent of his investment in fleshly desire, evoke that sense of persecution, self-loathing, and fear of damnation that earlier poems such as “Night and Morning,” “Mortal Pride,” and “Repentance” associated with the experience of confession.
The unusual verb (“unbutton”) that Clarke uses to describe this hypothesized gesture of self-forgiveness links deliverance to disclosure. It 36 | A C h a st en ed Commu n ion is not surprising then that in the penultimate poem of this volume, “Summer Lightning,” Clarke describes for the first time the darkest experience of his life, his thirteen-month-long confinement in a Dublin mental asylum. But as the title suggests, this poem offers only the briefest glimpse into this darkness. It is a snapshot that must be placed within a larger sequence to be fully understood, which only occurred twenty-eight years later when “Summer Lightning” was incorporated as section 8 of Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, the late confessional poem that describes in excruciating detail Clarke’s hospitalization and recovery.
28 The ordeal of being regularly scrutinized in the privacy of the confession box that Austin Clarke endured as a young boy was then a relatively new phenomenon in Irish culture. It is not surprising, therefore, that in his initial reaction against this modern instrument of ecclesiastical control Clarke turned to the distant cultural past for aid. 2 Austin Clarke began his poetic career with redactions of the foundational myths of the Gaelic past, The Vengeance of Fionn (1917) and The Sword of the West (1921).
A Chastened Communion: Modern Irish Poetry and Catholicism by Andrew J. Auge