Aspects of Clarke's Poetry
A) Evocation of Irish landscape and weather
B) Contemporary message in poetry
A) The Irish landscape and weather patterns provide an instantly recognisable backdrop to each of Clarke's poems. The opening stanza of The Lost Heifer is set against a background of mountain and valley "In the gap of the pure cold wind" a landscape typical of the south-west. The image becomes more precise when one includes the "black herds", the native breed of cattle adapted to hillside grazing. Clarke goes on to deal with the imagery of of Irish lowlands "The water hazes off the hazel" - "turning the silver out of dark grasses where the skylark had lain" - "In the meadow".
In the Blackbird of Derrycairn, two aspects of the Irish landscape are evoked by Clarke, a) the unspoiled, untamed countryside of the "forest track" and "hawthorn" - of the scene around Lough Erne. b) Set against this is the landscape of Christianity in little cells behind a cashel". This invokes an image of monastic settlement - a series of beehive huts, such as those we would associate with Sceilig Mhicil.
In the Planter's Daughter, there are again two aspects of the Irish landscape evoked by Clarke. In the opening stanza, Clarke draws a picture of a rural coastal community, he highlights the immediacy of the sea, "when the night stirred at sea and the fire brought a crowd in". The imposition of the plantations on the Irish landscape is reflected in the image "for the house of the planter is known by the trees".
The weather imagery in Clarke's poems is again unmistakably Irish, in The Lost Heifer, he speaks of mist and rain - "brightness drenching through the branches" - "turning silver out of dark grasses" and "water hazes". He also speaks of the gap of the pure cold wind".
There are no direct weather images in The Blackbird of Derrycairn, but, the bounteous flora referred to in the poem is however reflective of the Irish climate, he speaks of the brightness of the sunshine and the shouts of gillies in the morning around Lough Erne. In the Planter's Daughter, Clarke refers to oncoming night and the coldness that requires a fire, this again revokes the Irish climate.
B) Contemporary Message in Clarke's Poetry Clarke said that The Lost Heifer was written "at a period when our national identity was in crisis". The period was that of the civil war and the theme of the poem draws a parallel between the effects of English rule (pre-1921) and the civil war (1922-23) on Gaeilic Irish culture. In the tradition of the Jacobite poets, Clarke cloaks the real message of the poem beneath a layer of suggestive imagery. Whether imagery is used to denote the state of Irish Nationalism; rain representing the period of British rule, brightness, the Celtic Renaissance, and mist, the civil war. Clarke's concern in the poem are, the civil war would have as negative effect on Gaelic culture and the national ideal as British rule had - "Was the mist becoming rain".
In the Blackbird of Derrycairn, Clarke is immediately concerned with the Ireland of the 1920s and 1930s and the negative effect for writers of the censorship laws imposed, he believes, as a result of the influence of the Catholic Church. The contemporary message in this poem is Clarkes wish that Ireland be no longer a priest ridden society but a society in which the natural talents of its artists and writers would be allowed to flourish unhindered. Again in this poem the contemporary message is not apparent on first reading. The imagery and seemingly the theme are that of the original 18th Century Jacobite poem Lionn Doire an Chairn. However, the anti-church message is stingently put forward in the poem through the mouth-piece of the Blackbird. There is no debate in this poem, rather a monologue on the Blackbirds part, which sets out to glorify the Pagan way of life and to see the Christian tradition in terms of imprisonment, mourning and discipline. What Clarke is saying there is that Ireland must shake off its Catholic Conservation and must allow culture to develop in closer communion with nature and our Celtic heritage.
The third of Clarkes poems, The Planters Daughter, can also be interpreted as having a contemporary theme. In this light, Clarke seeks a solution to the division between Unionist and Nationalist, resulted from the newly formed states of Northern Ireland and the Free State. He suggests that what is necessary is the Gaelicisation of the planter, so that the next generation will be acceptable to the native Irish. The is a suggestion in the reverence in which the planters daughter is treated, that Clarke believes that a mixture of both planter and native culture would produce a society superior to that of Clarkes time.
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