Nature and landscape in Michael Longley's poetry

  • Michael R Glenfield

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Nature and landscape are at the heart of Michael Longley’s poetry. This thesis demonstrates the many ways in which his varied concerns converge and cohere through his nature poems. Longley expresses a powerful relationship with the townland of Carrigskeewaun in County Mayo. His observation of this landscape allows the poet to look beyond the boundaries of locality through his imagination. His poems set in the Irish West offer a medium for comprehending and belonging within the material world. Longley’s transformative observation enriches the depiction of nature in his poems, where animals are presented with a fundamental respect for their alterity to humanity, rather than as mere analogues for human existence.
The impulse to see past an individual experience creates a dialogue with contemporary politics and literary classics. Longley’s interactions with historic war poets, from Homer to Edward Thomas, establish a discourse with the past which is bound up with place, as well as conservation and ecology. His nature poems also engage in an ongoing lament for the victims of violence, both living and dead. I will examine how his elegies for the dead, especially those poems set on Thallabaun beach at Carrigskeewaun, are formed by the poet’s ‘long view’ of time. His responses to the natural world involve looking past the single human lifespan in order to meditate on mortality and mutability. This timeless quality is also apparent in the poet’s landscapes of Japan, which connect his poetic values to Japanese artists and writers who share his love of nature.
Through scrutiny of Longley’s landscapes and nature writing, this thesis will determine that nature is the most resourceful and versatile subject with which he is able to comprehend and critique the world about him. It is central to his status, achievement and significance as a modern Irish poet.
Date of Award6 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorStephen H Cheeke (Supervisor) & Stephen James (Supervisor)

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