HIGH ISLAND: New and Selected Poems by Richard Murphy

HIGH ISLAND: New and Selected Poems

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Murphy's compass is limited; he draws his mythology and his symbols from Ireland's past -- the battle of Aughrim, in which the mercenaries of William of Orange defeated the Catholic, native forces of King James II; the great ship disasters endured by fishermen; those romantic, nationalist outlaws -- the raparees. In short, the injustices and sorrows of Irish history. Granted that these are practically inexhaustible, this does make the poems rather special. But the real difficulty is Murphy's labored, often clumsy style; his poems lack spontaneity and have none of the cadence and lilt of the Gallic bardic tradition -- and that's where Murphy's trying to return. A poem for his dead grandmother reads like a prose elegy: ""She bandaged the wounds that poverty caused/ In the house that famine labourers built,/ Gave her hands to cure impossible wrong/ In a useless way, and was loved for it."" Too much of this is didactic, especially the Aughrim sequence which deals with the Protestant plunder of the Catholic population and its bitter legacy: ""Derry, oak-wood of bright angels,/ Londonderry, dingy walls/ Chalked at night with 'Fuck the Queen!'/Bygone canon, bygone spleen."" A poetry that records events without transcending them -- diligent and one-dimensional.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1974
Publisher: Harper & Row