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Thomas Kinsella Mirror In February Personal Response Essays

This article is about the Irish poet. For the U.S. Representative from New York, see Thomas Kinsella (New York).

Thomas Kinsella (born 4 May 1928) is an Irish poet, translator, editor, and publisher.

Early life and work[edit]

Kinsella was born in Inchicore, Dublin.[1] He spent most of his childhood in the Kilmainham/Inchicore area of Dublin. He was educated at the Model School, Inchicore, where classes were taught in Irish Gaelic, and at the O'Connell Schools in North Richmond Street, Dublin. His father and grandfather both worked in Guinness's Brewery.[2] He entered University College Dublin in 1946, initially to study science. After a few terms in college, he took a post in the Irish civil service in the Department of Finance and continued his university studies at night, having switched to humanities and arts.[3]

Kinsella's first poems were published in the University College Dublin magazine National Student. His first pamphlet, The Starlit Eye (1952), was published by Liam Miller's Dolmen Press, as was Poems (1956), his first book-length publication. These were followed by Another September (1958), Moralities (1960), Downstream (1962), Wormwood (1966), and the long poem Nightwalker (1967).

Marked as it was by the influence of W. H. Auden and dealing with a primarily urban landscape and with questions of romantic love, Kinsella's early work marked him as distinct from the mainstream of Irish poetry in the 1950s and 1960s, which tended to be dominated by the example of Patrick Kavanagh.

He received the Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin in May 2007.[4]

He taught the Irish Tradition Programme at Trinity College, Dublin.

The composer and member of Aosdána, John Kinsella (born 1932), is his brother.

Translations and editing[edit]

At Miller's suggestion, Kinsella turned his attention to the translation of early Irish texts. He produced versions of Longes Mac Unsnig and The Breastplate of St Patrick in 1954 and of Thirty-Three Triads in 1955. His most significant work in this area was collected in two important volumes. The first of these was The Táin, (Dolmen 1969 and Oxford 1970), a version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge illustrated by Louis le Brocquy.

The second major work of translation was an anthology of Irish poetry An Duanaire: 1600-1900, Poems of the Dispossessed (1981), translated by Kinsella and edited by Seán Ó Tuama. He also edited Austin Clarke's Selected Poems and Collected Poems (both 1974) for Dolmen and The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986).

Later poetry[edit]

In 1965, Kinsella left the civil service to become writer in residence at Southern Illinois University, and in 1970 he became a professor of English at Temple University in Philadelphia. While at Temple, he developed a program for students to study in Ireland called "the Irish Experience".

In 1972, he started Peppercanister Press to publish his own work. The first Peppercanister production was Butcher's Dozen, a satirical response to the Widgery Tribunal into the events of Bloody Sunday. This poem drew on the aisling tradition and specifically on Brian Merriman's Cúirt An Mheán Óiche. Kinsella's interest in the publishing process dates back at least as far as helping set the type for The Starlit Eye 20 years earlier.

In the Peppercanister poems, Kinsella's work ceased to be Audenesque and became more clearly influenced by American modernism, particularly the poetry of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Robert Lowell. In addition, the poetry started to focus more on the individual psyche as seen through the work of Carl Jung. These tendencies first appeared in the poems of Notes from the Land of the Dead (1973) and One (1974).

In the 1980s, books such as Her Vertical Smile (1985) Out of Ireland (1987) and St Catherine's Clock (1987) marked a move away from the personal to the historical. This continued into a sometimes darkly satirical focus on a contemporary landscape through the late 1980s and 1990s in such books as One Fond Embrace (1988), Personal Places (1990), Poems From Centre City (1990) and The Pen Shop (1996). His Collected Poems appeared in 1996 and again in an updated edition in 2001.


Poetry collections[edit]

  • Poems 1956-1973 (Dublin, The Dolmen Press, 1980);
  • Another September (Dolmen, 1958);
  • Poems & Translations (New York: Atheneum, 1961);
  • Downstream (Dolmen, 1962);
  • The Clergyman (Dublin: St Sepulchre's Press, 1965);
  • Tear (Cambridge, MA: Pym-Randall Press, 1969);
  • Nightwalker and Other Poems (Dolmen, Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 1968; New York, Knopf, 1969);
  • Ely Place (Dublin: Tara Telephone Publications/St. Sepulchre's Press, 1972);
  • The Good Fight (Peppercanister 1973);
  • Notes from the Land of the Dead and Other Poems (Knopf, 1973);
  • Fifteen Dead (Peppercanister, 1979);
  • One and Other Poems (Dolmen, Oxford University Press, 1979);
  • Peppercanister Poems 1972-1978 (Dolmen 1979; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University Press, 1979);
  • One Fond Embrace (Deerfield, MA: Deerfield Press, 1981);
  • St Catherine's Clock (Oxford University Press, 1987);
  • Blood & Family (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988);
  • Poems from Centre City (Peppercanister, 1990);
  • Madonna and Other Poems (Peppercanister, 1991);
  • Open Court (Peppercanister, 1991);
  • The Pen Shop (Peppercanister, 1997);
  • The Familiar (Peppercanister, 1999);
  • Godhead (Peppercanister, 1999);
  • Citizen of the World (Peppercanister, 2000);
  • Littlebody (Peppercanister, 2000);
  • Collected Poems 1956-2001 (Oxford University Press, 2001);
  • Marginal Economy (Peppercanister, 2006);
  • Collected Poems 1956-2001 (Wake Forest University Press, 2006);
  • Belief and Unbelief (Peppercanister, 2007);
  • Man of War (Peppercanister, 2007);
  • Selected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2007; Winston-Salem, NC: Wake Forest University Press, 2010)
  • Fat Master (Peppercanister, 2011);
  • Love Joy Peace (Peppercanister, 2011).
  • Late Poems (Carcanet, 2013).

Prose collections[edit]

  • The Dual Tradition: An Essay on Poetry and Politics in Ireland (Carcanet, 1995);
  • Readings in Poetry (Peppercanister, 2006);
  • Prose Occasions: 1956-2006 (Carcanet, 2009).

Poetry and prose[edit]

  • A Dublin Documentary (O'Brien Press, 2007). (Selected poems with photographs and author's commentary)


  • The Táin, translated from the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, with illustrations by Louis le Brocquy. Dolmen, 1969; Oxford University Press, 1970.
  • An Duanaire - Poems of the Dispossessed, an anthology of Gaelic poems; edited by Seán Ó Tuama. Portlaoise: Dolmen Press, 1981 ISBN 978-0-85105-363-9.


  • Fair Eleanor, O Christ Thee Save (Claddagh Records, 1971)
  • Thomas Kinsella - Poems 1956-2006 (Claddagh Records, 2007).


External links[edit]

Thomas Kinsella 1928-

Irish poet, translator, essayist, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Kinsella's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4 and 19.

Initially recognized by critics for his technical virtuosity—and later for his challenging forays into personal consciousness and Irish identity—Kinsella is one of the most respected Irish poets of his generation. Kinsella established a unique position among young poets who, during the period following World War II, contributed toward bringing new life to the static world of Irish poetry at the time. Since the beginning of his career, Kinsella's poetry has been distinguished both by its technical strength and by subject matter. Although his technique has altered considerably over the years, moving from a preference for carefully ordered structures to a rejection of traditional forms, Kinsella's themes have remained constant: love, death, and the creative act. While other poets have been concerned with similar topics, critics argue that Kinsella's poems stand apart through the originality of their perspective; his work reveals a poet intent on depicting a world in which love, death, and art face eventual loss and destruction.

Biographical Information

Kinsella was born in Dublin on May 4, 1928. His father, a brewery worker, was a socialist and member of the Labour party and the Left Book Club. Kinsella attended University College, Dublin, through a series of grants and scholarships. At first he studied physics and chemistry, later turning to a degree in public administration. Kinsella joined the Irish civil service in 1946. Following his time at the university, Kinsella formed relationships with Eleanor Walsh, whom he married in 1955, and with Sean Oriada, who became Ireland's leading musician and exerted a great influence on Kinsella's developing intellectual life. In 1952, after having written poetry for some years, Kinsella met Liam Miller, founder of the Dolmen Press. Over the next few years, Miller published several poems by Kinsella and the poet began working as a director of the press, which published Kinsella's first major collection, Another September in 1958. This volume and Moralities (1960), a sequence of short lyrics, garnered attention in the United States. Atheneum published Kinsella's Poems and Translations (1961) as part of a series of writings by younger British and Irish poets. While continuing to work for Ireland's finance department, Kinsella wrote enough verse to form another collection, Downstream (1962). A year after Downstream's publication, Kinsella was able to take an entire year's absence from his position as assistant principal officer to concentrate on poetry. In 1965 Kinsella accepted an invitation to serve as poet in residence at Southern Illinois University. By then considered Ireland's leading young poet, he became a professor of English at Southern Illinois. Kinsella later published Nightwalker and Other Poems (1968) and The Táin (1970), his translation of an Old Irish saga. In 1971 he accepted a position as professor of English at Temple University, where he taught for almost twenty years. Kinsella established the Peppercanister Press out of his Dublin home in 1972. The main purpose of the press was to publish limited printings of his works in progress. Butcher's Dozen (1972) was the press' first production; the following year it released Notes from the Land of the Dead and Other Poems (1973). In 1976 Kinsella founded Temple University's School of Irish Tradition in Dublin, enabling him to continue dividing his time between the United States and Ireland. Since then, Kinsella has released several other books, including Peppercanister Poems, 1972-1978 (1979), The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986), Personal Places (1990), and Poems from Centre City (1990).

Major Works

Kinsella's interest in the themes of love, death, and art are made specific in his poetry by his attention to describing people, places, and objects. His first major collection, Another September, is varied in its range—not uncommon for a first collection. The book includes love poems, meditative works on various individuals, and considerations on life and death. Among the better-known works in the volume is “Baggot Street Deserta,” which, set in nocturnal Dublin (one of Kinsella's favorite backdrops) and concerned with the loss inherent in life, declares that one must “endure and let the present punish.” Kinsella's preoccupation with isolation and loss frequently results in efforts to establish order. The poet approaches order, particularly in his earlier writings, through both subject matter and poetic structure. In Another September, the quest for order against a background of loss is explored in the potential of love as well as in that of traditional institutions. However, Kinsella's strongest manner of seeking order involves poetic technique, whereby order is created through traditional structure. Downstream contains five poems previously published in Moralities. These short lyrics, dealing with love, death, faith, and song, are surrounded by poems that deal with phenomena and the choices made by different characters. “Old Harry,” the title of which perhaps refers to the devil, examines the morality of Harry Truman's decision to unleash atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The book's title poem, among the earliest of Kinsella's so-called “journey poems,” further develops his interest in order, particularly the potential order found in nature. Involving violence and loss, “Downstream” tells of a seeker's quest to find “ancient Durrow,” a center of learning and devotion; the downstream direction of the journey indicates the certainty of death. The first group of poems in Nightwalker and Other Poems present a more concrete descriptive approach. Including “Office for the Dead” and “Museum,” these poems reflect the poet's continuing preoccupation with the certainty of loss. Nightwalker and Other Poems also contains two long meditative poems: the title poem and “Phoenix Park.” Resembling “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” by T. S. Eliot, “Nightwalker” employs a poet-wanderer who, with his mind under the influence of the moon, considers the modern profanation of art and religion as well as the dismal state of contemporary Irish politics. Named after Dublin's largest park, “Phoenix Park” involves a couple who, about to leave the city, pass various places that have held meaning for them, in the process creating a force to overcome loss. Two other works from the early 1970s confront loss in even more concrete terms: Butcher's Dozen is a response to the killings of thirteen Irish civil-rights marchers by British paratroopers in 1972, and A Selected Life (1972) considers the death of Kinsella's close friend, the Irish musician Sean Oriada. Notes from the Land of the Dead and Other Poems explores the female principle as a creative component of the poet and also reflects Kinsella's interest in psychoanalyst C. G. Jung's ideas on destruction and creation. Peppercanister Poems, 1972-1978, contains several poems concerned with the poet's relationship to Ireland. Included in the collection is One (1974), in which Kinsella uses the Jungian concept of a common memory to explore his Irish legacy. Personal Places and Poems from Centre City reveal Kinsella's views on the importance of personal experience and consider his life in Dublin.

Critical Reception

Critics have interpreted Kinsella's poetry as seeking to confront a reality of isolation and loss, particularly in the context of Irish cultural history and the postwar Irish poet's struggle to forge a unique artistic identity in the long shadow of Irish luminaries W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. Kinsella's interest in the literary history of Ireland, particularly the Gaelic verse which he translated in The Táin and An Duanaire (1981), has also earned him respect as a proponent for the recovery of a distinctly Irish—as opposed to Anglo-Irish—culture. As many commentators note, Kinsella's perpetually evolving poetry—marked by frequent revisions and divergent stylistic approaches—is best understood as a continuous lifework, often compared to Ezra Pound's Cantos. While his early volumes won acclaim for their well-crafted elegance, his later volumes are noted for their increasing complexity and interior explorations of the psyche. Downstream was noted for its development of new structural techniques to confront its concerns. Greeted enthusiastically by most reviewers, Nightwalker and Other Poems demonstrates important developments in Kinsella's approach to poetic structure, including a virtually complete abandonment of rhyme. In Notes from the Land of the Dead, the poet seemed to have broken away from his earlier, structurally ordered poems. In this volume, Kinsella traded syntax and complete phrases for fragments, a technique suited to the imagery of dreams and to poems displaying increased ambiguity of meaning. While some critics had earlier faulted Kinsella's technique, critical consternation concerning his style became even more apparent with Notes from the Land of the Dead. With this book, some reviewers were dismayed by the level of difficulty and obscurity of the writing. Such complaining, however, tended to be the minority opinion regarding Kinsella's poetry; the complexity of his verse is viewed as highly suited to the sophistication of his themes and imagery.