'Atrocities against his Sacred Poet': The Orpheus Myth and the Poetry of the Northern Irish Troubles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSacrifice and Modern War Literature
Subtitle of host publicationThe Battle of Waterloo to the War on Terror
EditorsAlex Houen, Jan-Melissa Schramm
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9780198806516
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2018


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