Denis Donoghue

Denis Donoghue, who died in 2021, was born in Tullow, County Carlow and studied at University College Dublin, Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music, where he excelled at Lieder singing. He taught literature at UCD for many years, before being appointed to the Henry James Chair of English and American Letters at New York University in 1980. His many books include editions of W.B. Yeats, Henry James and R.P. Blackmur, a biography of Walter Pater and critical works on subjects including literature and eloquence, voice, interpretation and metaphor. His thirty pieces for the LRB include accounts of W.H. Auden’s lack of seriousness,  J.M. Synge’s ‘tedious’ love letters, many reviews of contemporary poetry and an essay on ‘the other place’ (Trinity College Dublin).

Is it always my fault? T.S. Eliot

Denis Donoghue, 25 January 2007

In 1929, in his essay on Dante, T.S. Eliot wrote:

But the question of what Dante ‘believed’ is always relevant. It would not matter, if the world were divided between those persons who are capable of taking poetry simply for what it is and those who cannot take it at all; if so, there would be no need to talk about this question to the former and no use in talking about it to the...

On 15 February 1902, James Joyce, aged 20, read a paper on James Clarence Mangan to the Literary and Historical Society of what is now University College, Dublin. It was a brash performance. Joyce spoke as if he were introducing an unknown poet, and chose to ignore the facts that there were several collections of Mangan’s poems at large and that his life and work had been extensively...

Untouched by Eliot: Jon Stallworthy

Denis Donoghue, 4 March 1999

‘Why should the parent of one or two legitimate poems make a public display of the illegitimate offspring of his apprentice years?’ Jon Stallworthy asks in the afterword to Singing School. His short answer is: ‘because, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has done so, and the schooling of poets seems a potentially rewarding subject.’ The longer answer is that ‘in the early chapters of their autobiographies, Coleridge, Hardy, Yeats, Sassoon, Graves, Day Lewis, Spender and MacNeice have a good deal to say about the external circumstances of their family lives, but little about their internal or “writerly” lives.’ That is true, though some of these poets have left us evidence of their methods of composition, which we can interpret. Yeats left not only the Autobiographies, the Memoirs and personal poems, but drafts of many poems, and these have enabled scholars to study his artistic processes, as Stallworthy did in Between the Lines.‘

I’ve been comparing Daniel Karlin’s anthology here and there with other anthologies of English verse of the same period (Victoria’s reign 1837-1901) and of the 19th century as a whole. His major precursors are Quiller-Couch, Yeats, Auden, George MacBeth, Christopher Ricks and Ian Fletcher. I don’t intend a Shopper’s Guide, but I’ll start with two small complaints. Unlike Fletcher, Karlin doesn’t give explanatory notes, except for a few dialect words and phrases in foreign languages. Reading Davidson’s ‘Thirty Bob a Week,’ you have to know or guess what a hunks is. Fletcher tells you it’s a ‘miser’:‘

The Gunman

Denis Donoghue, 27 November 1997

I made my first visit to Belfast when I was almost 11, late in 1939. The war had just started, and Italy had joined Germany in aggression. My father was the sergeant-in-charge of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Warren point, Co. Down and he was instructed to arrest all enemy aliens in the town and convey them for internment to Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. The only alien we had was an Italian who ran the fish and chip shop in the Square. He had anglicised his name to Tony Malocca. My father hired a car and a driver for the great occasion, and brought me along for the ride, letting me sit up front while he sat beside Tony in the back. We drove the forty-five miles or so to Belfast and stopped at the big gate outside the jail. My father told me to sit where I was till he had completed his business with Tony. From that day to this, I have thought of Belfast as a jail surrounded by drab, cold streets. The fact that my sister May has lived congenially enough in Belfast for many years has not altered my impression of the city. I visited her a few months ago and found it as grim as it was in 1939. But my experience of it, I concede, is limited. I stayed away from Belfast during the Troubles. I know it’s thought to be a friendly place by nature and on principle. But I’m a Dublin man by avocation, though not by right of birth.

What is a pikestaff? Metaphor

Colin Burrow, 23 April 2015

Metaphors.​ The little devils just wriggle in everywhere. ‘Put a lid on it,’ ‘get stuck in,’ ‘shut your trap’: they’re a routine feature of vernacular...

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The Devilish God: T.S. Eliot

David Wheatley, 1 November 2001

Few presences were more imposing in postwar poetry than that of T.S. Eliot, but from his eminence as the Pope of Russell Square, Eliot has now shrunk to something more like a holy ghost....

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Adam Phillips, 24 August 1995

In a contemporary review of The Renaissance in the Pall Mall Gazette, the critic Sidney Colvin wrote that ‘the book is not one for any beginner to turn to in search of...

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Literary Supplements

Karl Miller, 21 March 1991

Denis Donoghue has written a seductive book. Perhaps it could be said that he has spliced together two books, one of which is more seductive than the other. One of them narrates. The other...

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Green War

Patricia Craig, 19 February 1987

Wars and battles: these words, appearing prominently in the titles of two of the books under consideration, might give the impression that poetry, or criticism, or the criticism of poetry, is a...

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Claude Rawson, 4 March 1982

Denis Donoghue begins, a little self-indulgently, by reprinting six short BBC talks on ‘Words’. The excuse is that such radio talks offer a simple if incomplete model for...

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