Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ireland's Foremost Romantic


In Siberia's wastes
The Ice-wind's breath
Woundeth like the tooth├Ęd steel.
Lost Siberia doth reveal
Only blight and death.

These lines are from the poem by James Clarence Mangan (1803-49), who has been called Ireland's foremost Romantic poet. Mangan's handling of rhyme and metre fuse with his dramatic imagery to give his poem the intensity which Yeats considered Mangan's most important characteristic.

Mangan will feature in the library's exhibition for Culture Night, which takes place later this month. Our exhibition, curated by the hon. librarian Peter Costello, will focus on "Writers and Artists of the South Georgian Quarter". Mangan was associated with the area through his early training as a scrivener in York Street, and his work on the staff of the library at Trinity College. One of the items on display will be a 1904 edition of "Irish and Other Poems" by Mangan.

Mangan's reputation was greatly enhanced by the publication of a new scholarly edition of his complete works between 1996-2002. These seven volumes include a full bibliography by Jacques Chuto, and a fascinating biography by Ellen Shannon-Mangan.

In a life marked by financial distress, periodic unemployment, illness and alcoholism, Mangan's prolific literary output shows his skills as a linguist, and his love of game-playing (with language and with identity). Also evident is his knowlege of English and continental Romanticism, and the ways in which he appropriated the themes and idioms of this movement for his own use.

Baptized simply James, he used the added "Clarence" constantly to sign his poems during the eighteen years of his professional life, quoting Shakespeare's Richard III: "Clarence is come, false, fleeting, perjured Clarence". As James Clarence Mangan, he was free to pursue the "perfection of the work", both expressing and transcending the suffering that marked his life.