To Homer Through Michael Longley:
A Contemporary Irish Poet's
Iliadic and Odyssean Lyrics

Peter Burian

Duke University

The substantial and highly accomplished corpus of poetry by Michael Longley (b. 1939), produced over a period of more than forty years, includes a series of short lyrics based on episodes and characters of both Iliad and Odyssey. Longley here follows in an important English tradition of meditations in verse on Homeric themes, the best known being perhaps Tennyson's "Ulysses" and Auden's "Shield of Achilles," the most sustained and startling, Christopher Logue's ongoing War Music. Longley's contribution to this tradition is a series of poems that in some cases present beautifully epiphanic renderings of moments in the epics, in others decidedly contemporary rereadings or reimaginings of Homeric scenes and situations. All are marked by an interest in forging a language at once belonging to the present and imbued with a credible sense of heroic style, and many include translations and adaptations of lines from the epics. These poems are not sequestered in the various collections in which they appear, but interspersed in a way that produces resonances for and from the poems that surround them.

This paper will introduce Longley's "Homerica," analyze themes and techniques of individual poems, and chart connections among the group as a whole. Classicists will, I believe, find Longley's lyrics intriguing as instances of the creative reception of Homer today, to be read with pleasure and to be used with profit in teaching the epics to high school and college students. A handout containing a "catalogue" of the poems dispersed in several collections and texts of the poems selected for analysis will be provided. 

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