Tag Archives: James Joyce

“Every Irishman is an Arab” (Mangan’s Oriental “Translations”)

‘To an acquaintance who objected that a particular translation was not Moorish, he replied: “Well, never mind, it’s Tom Moorish.’’ ’

– Charles Gavan Duffy


‘Every Irishman is an Arab’:

James Clarence Mangan’s Eastern ‘Translations’

An essay by Melissa Fegan


“This article examines James Clarence Mangan’s ‘Literæ Orientales’, six articles he published in the Dublin University Magazine between 1837 and 1846. Many of the translations of Persian and Turkish poems Mangan offers in these articles are, in fact, original poems masquerading as translations, and Mangan uses them, and his reflections on orientalism and contemporary translation theory, to critique the ignorance and arrogance of Western attitudes to Eastern literature and culture, and undermine facile notions of transparent translation. He also plays on the long-standing association of Ireland and the East, seen in Mangan’s Dublin University Magazine colleague Samuel O’Sullivan’s labelling of papists and nationalists as ‘Affghans at home’, to plant subversive comparisons of the Irish and Oriental colonized in the journal of Anglo-Irish cultural hegemony.”







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Monuments to Mangan (The Irish Times)

A review article by the poet John Montague saluting Clarence Mangan in prospect of his bicentenary on May Day of 2003 ; published in The Irish Times on Saturday, April 26, 2003.


Another Veilèd Prophet utters a mystic speech,

To be translated only by a future age . . .

With his bicentenary on May Day, James Clarence Mangan rises up like some Gothic creature, glowing, from his grave. I am referring to the many volumes of The Collected Works, the four of poetry and the two of prose, which have been published by the Irish Academic Press, along with a fine biography, and bibliography. These are essential reading not only for departments of Irish literature, but also for Irish history as well, because Mangan was the most piercing voice of his epoch. Even the periodical publication of his poems and prose pieces, such as ‘The Woman of Three Cows’, published in an Irish Penny Journal of 1840, or the appearance of ‘Siberia’ and ‘Dark Rosaleen’ in The Nation, in the gloomy year of 1846, are testimonies to the survival of the creative spirit during the darkest days of our history.

Though sometimes he sounds like a voice from a shroud. His poems, especially in the 1840s, have an almost monotonous melancholy, which seems like the distillation from some weeping cloud crossing the stricken landscape of mid-19th-century Ireland. Or, to change the metaphor, a funeral bell knelling endlessly.

And towards the West at first they marched,

Then towards the South,

Those endless FUNERALS, till the sky o’erhead,

As one vast pall, seemed overarched

With blackness, and methought the mouth

Of Hades had cast up its Dead!

Published in the United Irishman in March 1849, ‘The Funerals’ might seem to sound some ultimate note of gloom, but Mangan haunts the same darkness in ‘The Famine’ a few months later, in the same periodical.

Despair? Yes! For a blight fell on the land –

The soil, heaven-blasted, yielded food no more –

The Irish serf became a Being banned –

Life-exiled as none ever was before.

But then this “piercing wail”, while indeed a lament for all Ireland, also has its source in Mangan’s own psyche. An early poem, composed in competition with other Dublin wags, begins: “Come get the black, the mourning pall . . .” And one of his few prose pieces of first intensity, his fragmentary Autobiography, reprinted by the Dolmen Press in 1968, describes a blighted childhood: “In my boyhood I was haunted by an indescribable feeling of something terrible”. This text was probably the germ for Tom Kinsella’s fine gloomy poem on Mangan: it is as if, as a child, Mangan had suffered the kind of “vastation” of the spirit to which Ted Hughes ascribes the genius of Emily Dickinson.

Mangan depicts his father terrorising his wife, and gleeful that his children try to flee like mice at his approach. This was a father who squeezed the life out of his entire family, “a human boa-constrictor”. Mangan sought refuge in books and solitude: “I isolated myself in such a manner from my own nearest relatives that with one voice they all proclaimed me mad.” Yet these early methods of escape – solace in books and a disdain for the outer world – were clearly not completely successful, for Mangan also describes a “feeling of impending calamity”.

It was in his boyhood “that the seeds of that moral insanity were developed within me which afterwards grew up into a tree of great altitude”. Convinced of his waywardness and eccentricity, but compelled to seek work as a scrivener, at which he laboured long hours for low pay, the coarseness of his colleagues afflicted him: “My nervous and hypochondriacal feelings almost verged upon insanity.”

Once again the serpents seethe: “I seemed . . . to be shut up in a cavern with serpents and scorpions . . . which . . . discharged their slime and venom over my person.”

Perhaps his greatest poetry came when his blasted psyche was mirrored by a blighted landscape, when political and personal suffering finally met in his verse.

From the sordid scrivener’s life, Mangan sought relief in scribbling. The buffoonery of his early constitutional satire, ‘Our Quackstitution’, with its gross word play – “the House of Hangover”, and “Longdulldreary” for Londonderry – seems tedious, like the whimsy of ‘A Treatise on a Pair of Tongs’. Such prose could be seen as an ancestor of the exuberant linguistic lunacy of writers like Myles. But it does not seem as natural to Mangan’s psyche as his ventures into the Gothic, especially The Man in the Cloak, which is already a version of a story of Balzac, intended as a sequel to Melmoth the Wanderer. And of course Mangan worshipped Maturin. As a child, he followed Maturin along the streets, and later would consider that haggard, solitary, oddly dressed figure an alter ego in eccentricity, and perhaps also in genius.

There is a curious moment in The Man in the Cloak where one of the bank secretaries is described as “a flippant litterateur, who translated German poetry and wrote German stories for the magazines . . .” How much German did Mangan really know, and where, indeed, had he learnt it? He certainly knew enough to act as tutor to some pretty Dublin ladies. And his voluminous Anthologia Germanica produced the only book published in his lifetime, German Anthology: A Series of Translations (1845).

When I was compiling my Faber Book of Irish Verse, I included poems which I then took to be original, but now discover were copied from the German. For instance, the wonderfully dolorous ‘Siberia’, which must be one of the great protest poems of the world –

In Siberia’s wastes

The Ice-wind’s breath

Woundeth like the toothèd steel . . .

– turns out to be based on an obscure German poem about Polish leaders sentenced to Siberia after the 1830 revolution.

An autobiographical aside here: the first poem of Mangan that I read was not one of his political/historical visions. I was, after all, brought up in the North of Ireland, so British war poetry was more likely to be on the syllabus; echoes of that early training can still be heard in much Northern Irish poetry. Whereas my Southern contemporaries were subjected to dirges like ‘O’Hussey’s Ode to the Maguire’ and, of course, ‘Dark Rosaleen’. Those visionary poems are extraordinary; a lurid light plays over an often arid landscape, and the language is infected with a hectic glitter, as if the poet were drunk or drugged. But I fell in love with a love poem, as I trudged through the woods of south Dublin, chanting to myself: “I saw her once, one little while, and then no more:/ ‘Twas Paradise on Earth awhile, and then no more./ Ah! what avail my vigils pale, my magic lore?”

This of course is from the original German of Rückert. In addition to gently purloining original German poems, Mangan sometimes signs his ostensible translations “Selber”, a variant of “Self”. As when he refers to his translations of the Persian poet, Hafiz, jokingly since he knew little or no Persian, as being “Half-His”. Mangan’s Oriental translations can be seen as part of the fascination with Arabia which led to Goethe’s Westöstlicher Divan and, of course, Moore’s ‘Lalla Rookh’. Of our living Irish poets, only Desmond O’Grady has inherited some of this scholarly passion for the East, translating some of the great Arabic odes. Mangan worked from the available scholars, yet his version of a poem by Jami, ‘The Hundred-Leafèd Rose’, has a gorgeous symmetry. But then this gaunt, golden-haired spectre had a thing about roses, as in his beautiful translation from the Turkish, ‘The Time of the Roses’. And also his haunting, nostalgic poems of youth lost and time passing: “Remember/ The days of roses but as a dream.”

Although the posthumous Poets and Poetry of Munster is a landmark in our literary history, there is the question as to how much Irish Mangan actually knew. Douglas Hyde tells how it was Mangan’s “custom to stretch his body halfway across the counter, while John [O’Daly] would translate the Irish song to him and [he] would versify it . . .” Some of his versions, or “perversions”, are quite beautiful, and again when I was looking for some O’Rahilly for my Faber anthology, I chose Mangan over even Austin Clarke.

Now that we have the mass of Mangan, nearly 1,000 poems, re-evaluation can begin. The more or less official Selected winnows these, with a thoughtful introduction by Terence Brown of Trinity College, whose Dublin University Magazine sustained the poet for years. Brown links the failing fortunes of post-Union Dublin to those of Mangan, his attraction “to the romantic trope of ruination”.

And the dirge still draws us, from Kinsella to Durcan, and beyond. Another, slimmer Selected has been edited and introduced by David Wheatley, a gifted young poet whose own volumes, Thirst and Misery Hill, surely entitle him to write with authority on Mangan’s “landscape of grandeur and desolation”. Brown and Wheatley sometimes see him as a Borges-like “shape-changer”. But while Mangan may lack the length and breadth of his fellow 19th-century Irish poets, Ferguson and Allingham, the nervous intensity of his best lyrics are unique mediumistic masterpieces.

The entire Irish Academic Press series, comprising nine volumes, is also a monument to the tireless general editorship of the late Augustine Martin.




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The man the bourgeoisie forgot: James Clarence Mangan

Here is somebody’s well considered appraisal (forgiving the misdirected boilerplate socialism and the occasional editorial lapse – though “true and true” for through and through does reflect a certain Dublin charm) of Clarence Mangan’s place in the literary cosmos. Cheers. ~Q~

Workers' Arts League

(originally published in The Plough, reprinted with permission)

One would find it odd that a man who walked around Dublin City in the early 19th century ashen faced, dressed in a voluminous cloak, wearing green spectacles, a blond wig and a pointed hat with two umbrellas under each arm would be as inconspicuous to the public as this man is today. Eccentricity though is not what should have made James Clarence Mangan more popularly known. His poetry and essays are prepared with enough beauty and originality to break through the bourgeois face of literary Ireland but alas it isn’t so. Literary Ireland consults Britain and America before it declares which Irish poets are great. Mangan is not one of “the greats” because he was a true Dubliner. To juxtapose him with someone like James Joyce is to create a distinction between a Euro-American prose and a true Dublin prose. Joyce’s…

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Joyce’s paper on Mangan’s “vastation of soul”


 ~   ~   ~   After he read out his paper on Mangan, young Jim Joyce was mocked as “the Hatter” in the pages of St. Stephen’s, the college magazine (this epithet furnished a theme for vignettes, a quasi-Carrollian imputation of eccentricity to “Dreaming Jimmy” — if not of actual madness) ; a few weeks later, none the less, the editors published the essay itself.    ~   ~   ~


In February of 1902, a dedicated young scholar named James Augustine Aloysius Joyce gave a lecture at the Literary and Historical Society of his school, University College, Dublin. The text was an essay he had penned, entitled simply, “James Clarence Mangan”.

James Joyce identified closely with Clarence Mangan as the lonely artist who wandered nameless and found scant honour or understanding in his native land. In promulgating the cause of the dead poet as “the type of his race”, as the last of Ireland’s bards and “the most significant poet of the modern Celtic world” (which indeed Mangan was before the time of Yeats), Joyce sought to make his mark in painting a “portrait of the artist”. At the same time the ambitious young man of twenty years intended a larger quest of “blue-printing an aesthetic theory” (as Anthony Burgess has put it).

Joyce’s ambivalently critical view of Mangan, inasmuch as “History encloses him so straitly that even his fiery moments do not set him free from it”, may be said to foreshadow —by unfavourable contrast as in a veiled mirror— the declaration of Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses :

— History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.



James Clarence Mangan

‘Memorial I would have… a constant presence with those that love me.’

It is many a day since the dispute of the classical and romantic schools began in the quiet city of the arts, so that criticism, which has wrongly decided that the classical temper is the romantic temper grown older, has been driven to recognize these as constant states of mind. Though the dispute has been ungentle (to say no more) and has seemed to some a dispute about names and with time has become a confused battle, each school advancing to the borders of the other and busy with internal strife, the classical school fighting the materialism which attends it, and the romantic school to preserve coherence, yet as this unrest is the condition of achievement, it is so far good, and presses slowly towards a deeper insight which will make the schools at one. Meanwhile no criticism is just which avoids labour by setting up a standard of maturity by which to judge the schools. The romantic school is often and grievously misinterpreted, not more by others than by its own, for that impatient temper which, as it could see no fit abode for its ideals, chose to behold them under insensible figures, comes to disregard certain limitations, and, because these figures are blown high and low by the mind that conceived them, comes at times to regard them as feeble shadows moving aimlessly about the light, obscuring it ; and the same temper, which assuredly has not grown more patient, exclaims that the light is changed to worse than shadow, to darkness even, by any method which bends upon these present things and so works upon them and fashions them that the quick intelligence may go beyond them to their meaning, which is still unuttered. Yet so long as this place in nature is given us, it is right that art should do no violence to that gift, though it may go far beyond the stars and the waters in the service of what it loves. Wherefore the highest praise must be withheld from the romantic school (though the most enlightened of Western poets be thereby passed over), and the cause of the impatient temper must be sought in the artist and in his theme. Nor must the laws of his art be forgotten in the judgment of the artist, for no error is more general than the judgment of a man of letters by the supreme laws of poetry. Verse, indeed, is not only the expression of rhythm, but poetry in any art transcends the mode of its expression ; and to name what is less than poetry in the arts, there is need of new terms, though in one art the term ‘literature’ may be used. Literature is the wide domain which lies between ephemeral writing and poetry (with which is philosophy), and just as the greater part of verse is not literature, so even original writers and thinkers must often be jealously denied the most honourable title ; and much of Wordsworth, and almost all of Baudelaire, is merely literature in verse and must be judged by the laws of literature. Finally, it must be asked concerning every artist how he is in relation to the highest knowledge and to those laws which do not take holiday because men and times forget them. This is not to look for a message but to approach the temper which has made the work, an old woman praying, or a young man fastening his shoe, and to see what is there well done and how much it signifies. A song by Shakespeare or Verlaine, which seems so free and living and as remote from any conscious purpose as rain that falls in a garden or the lights of evening, is discovered to be the rhythmic speech of an emotion otherwise incommunicable, at least so fitly. But to approach the temper which has made art is an act of reverence and many conventions must be first put off, for certainly the inmost region will never yield to one who is enmeshed with profanities.

That was a strange question which the innocent Parsifal asked— ‘Who is good ?’ and it is recalled to mind when one reads certain criticisms and biographies, for which the influence of a modern writer, misunderstood as the worship of broad-cloth, is answerable. When these criticisms are insincere they are humourous, but the case is worse when they are as sincere as such things can be. And so, when Mangan is remembered in his country (for he is sometimes spoken of in literary societies), his countrymen lament that such poetic faculty was mated with so little rectitude of conduct, surprised to find this faculty in a man whose vices were exotic and who was little of a patriot. Those who have written of him, have been scrupulous in holding the balance between the drunkard and the opium-eater, and have sought to discover whether learning or imposture lies behind such phrases as ‘from the Ottoman’ or ‘from the Coptic’ : and save for this small remembrance, Mangan has been a stranger in his country, a rare and unsympathetic figure in the streets, where he is seen going forward alone like one who does penance for some ancient sin. Surely life, which Novalis has called a malady of the spirit, is a heavy penance for him who has, perhaps, forgotten the sin that laid it upon him, a sorrowful portion, too, because of the fine artist in him which reads so truly the lines of brutality and of weakness in the faces of men that are thrust in upon his path. He bears it well for the most part, acquiescing in the justice which has made him a vessel of wrath, but in a moment of frenzy he breaks silence, and we read how his associates dishonoured his person with their slime and venom, and how he lived as a child amid coarseness and misery and that all whom he met were demons out of the pit and that his father was a human boa-constrictor. Certainly he is wiser who accuses no man of acting unjustly towards him, seeing that what is called injustice is never so but is an aspect of justice, yet they who think that such a terrible tale is the figment of a disordered brain do not know how keenly a sensitive boy suffers from contact with a gross nature. Mangan, however, is not without some consolation, for his sufferings have cast him inwards, where for many ages the sad and the wise have elected to be. When someone told him that the account which he had given of his early life, so full of things which were, indeed, the beginnings of sorrows, was wildly overstated, and partly false, he answered— ‘Maybe I dreamed it.’ The world, you see, has become somewhat unreal for him, and he has begun to contemn that which is, in fine, the occasion of much error. How will it be with those dreams which, for every young and simple heart, take such dear reality upon themselves ? One whose nature is so sensitive cannot forget his dreams in a secure, strenuous life. He doubts them, and puts them from him for a time, but when he hears men denying them with an oath he would acknowledge them proudly, and where sensitiveness has induced weakness, or, as here, refined upon natural weakness, would even compromise with the world, and win from it in return the favour of silence, if no more, as for something too slight to bear a violent disdain, for that desire of the heart so loudly derided, that rudely entreated idea. His manner is such that none can say if it be pride or humility that looks out of that vague face, which seems to live only because of those light shining eyes and of the fair silken hair above it, of which he is a little vain. This purely defensive reserve is not without dangers for him, and in the end it is only his excesses that save him from indifference. Something has been written of an affair of the heart between him and a pupil of his, to whom he gave lessons in German, and, it seems, he was an actor afterwards in a love-comedy of three, but if he is reserved with men, he is shy with women, and he is too self-conscious, too critical, knows too little of the soft parts of conversation, for a gallant. And in his strange dress, in which some have seen eccentricity, and others affectation— the high, conical hat, the loose trousers many sizes too big for him, and the old umbrella, so like a bagpipes— one may see a half-conscious expression of this. The lore of many lands goes with him always, eastern tales and the memory of curiously printed medieval books which have rapt him out of his time— gathered together day by day and embroidered as in a web. He has acquaintance with a score of languages, of which, upon occasion, he makes a liberal parade, and has read recklessly in many literatures, crossing how many seas, and even penetrating into Peristan, to which no road leads that the feet travel. In Timbuctooese, he confesses with a charming modesty which should prevent detractors, he is slightly deficient, but this seems no cause for regret. He is interested, too, in the life of the seeress of Prevorst, and in all phenomena of middle nature and here, where most of all the sweetness and resoluteness of the soul have power, he seems to seek in a world, how different from that in which Watteau may have sought, both with a certain graceful inconstancy, ‘what is there in no satisfying measure or not at all.’

His writings, which have never been collected and which are unknown, except for two American editions of selected poems and some pages of prose, published by Duffy, show no order and sometimes very little thought. Many of his essays are pretty fooling when read once, but one cannot but discern some fierce energy beneath the banter, which follows up the phrases with no good intent, and there is a likeness between the desperate writer, himself the victim of too dextrous torture, and the contorted writing. Mangan, it must be remembered, wrote with no native literary tradition to guide him, and for a public which cared for matters of the day, and for poetry only so far as it might illustrate these. He could not often revise what he wrote, and he has often striven with Moore and Walsh on their own ground. But the best of what he has written makes its appeal surely, because it was conceived by the imagination which he called, I think, the mother of things, whose dream are we, who imageth us to herself, and to ourselves, and imageth herself in us— the power before whose breath the mind in creation is (to use Shelley’s image) as a fading coal. Though even in the best of Mangan the presence of alien emotions is sometimes felt the presence of an imaginative personality reflecting the light of imaginative beauty is more vividly felt. East and West meet in that personality (we know how) ; images interweave there like soft, luminous scarves and words ring like brilliant mail, and whether the song is of Ireland or of Istambol it has the same refrain, a prayer that peace may come again to her who has lost her peace, the moonwhite pearl of his soul, Ameen. Music and odours and lights are spread about her, and he would search the dews and the sands that he might set another glory near her face. A scenery and a world have grown up about her face, as they will about any face which the eyes have regarded with love. Vittoria Colonna and Laura and Beatrice— even she upon whose face many lives have cast their shadowy delicacy, as of one who broods upon distant terrors and riotous dreams, and that strange stillness before which love is silent, Mona Lisa— embody one chivalrous idea, which is no mortal thing, bearing it bravely above the accidents of lust and faithlessness and weariness ; and she whose white and holy hands have the virtue of enchanted hands, his virgin flower, and flower of flowers, is no less than these an embodiment of that idea. How the East is laid under tribute for her and must bring all its treasures to her feet ! The sea that foams over saffron sands, the lonely cedar on the Balkans, the hall damascened with moons of gold and a breath of roses from the gulistan— all these shall be where she is in willing service : reverence and peace shall be the service of the heart, as in the verses ‘To Mihri’ :

My starlight, my moonlight, my midnight, my noonlight,
Unveil not, unveil not!

And where the music shakes off its languor and is full of the ecstasy of combat, as in the ‘Lament for Sir Maurice FitzGerald’, and in ‘Dark Rosaleen’, it does not attain the quality of Whitman indeed, but is tremulous with all the changing harmonies of Shelley’s verse. Now and then this note is hoarsened and a troop of unmannerly passions echoes it derisively, but two poems at least sustain the music unbroken, the ‘Swabian Popular Song’, and a translation of two quatrains by Wetzel. To create a little flower, Blake said, is the labour of ages, and even one lyric has made Dowland immortal ; and the matchless passages which are found in other poems are so good that they could not have been written by anyone but Mangan. He might have written a treatise on the poetical art for he is more cunning in his use of the musical echo than is Poe, the high priest of most modern schools, and there is a mastery, which no school can teach, but which obeys an interior command, which we may trace in ‘Kathaleen-Ny-Houlahan’, where the refrain changes the trochaic scheme abruptly for a line of firm, marching iambs.

All his poetry remembers wrong and suffering and the aspiration of one who has suffered and who is moved to great cries and gestures when that sorrowful hour rushes upon the heart. This is the theme of a hundred songs but of none so intense as these songs which are made in noble misery, as his favourite Swedenborg would say, out of the vastation of soul. Naomi would change her name to Mara, because it has gone bitterly with her, and is it not the deep sense of sorrow and bitterness which explains these names and titles and this fury of translation in which he has sought to lose himself ? For he has not found in himself the faith of the solitary, or the faith, which in the middle age, sent the spires singing up to heaven, and he waits for the final scene to end the penance. Weaker than Leopardi, for he has not the courage of his own despair but forgets all ills and forgoes his scorn at the showing of some favour, he has, perhaps for this reason, the memorial he would have had— a constant presence with those that love him— and bears witness, as the more heroic pessimist bears witness against his will to the calm fortitude of humanity, to a subtle sympathy with health and joyousness which is seldom found in one whose health is safe. And so he does not shrink from the grave and the busy workings of the earth so much as from the unfriendly eyes of women and the hard eyes of men. To tell the truth, he has been in love with death all his life, like another, and with no woman, and he has the same gentle manner as of old to welcome him whose face is hidden with a cloud, who is named Azrael. Those whom the flames of too fierce love have wasted on earth become after death pale phantoms among the winds of desire, and, as he strove here towards peace with the ardour of the wretched, it may be that now the winds of peace visit him and he rests, and remembers no more this bitter vestment of the body.

Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality. It speaks of what seems fantastic and unreal to those who have lost the simple intuitions which are the test of reality ; and, as it is often found at war with its age, so it makes no account of history, which is fabled by the daughters of memory, but sets store by every time less than the pulsation of an artery, the time in which its intuitions start forth, holding it equal in its period and value to six thousand years. No doubt they are only men of letters who insist on the succession of ages, and history or the denial of reality, for they are two names for one thing, may be said to be that which deceives the whole world. In this, as in much else, Mangan is the type of his race. History encloses him so straitly that even his fiery moments do not set him free from it. He, too, cries out, in his life and in his mournful verses, against the injustice of despoilers, but never laments a deeper loss than the loss of plaids and ornaments. He inherits the latest and worst part of a legend upon which the line has never been drawn out and which divides against itself as it moves down the cycles. And because this tradition is so much with him he has accepted it with all its griefs and failures, and has not known how to change it, as the strong spirit knows, and so would bequeath it : the poet who hurls his anger against tyrants would establish upon the future an intimate and far more cruel tyranny. In the final view the figure which he worships is seen to be an abject queen upon whom, because of the bloody crimes that she has done and of those as bloody that were done to her, madness is come and death is coming, but who will not believe that she is near to die and remembers only the rumour of voices challenging her sacred gardens and her fair, tall flowers that have become the food of boars. Novalis said of love that it is the Amen of the universe, and Mangan can tell of the beauty of hate ; and pure hate is as excellent as pure love. An eager spirit would cast down with violence the high traditions of Mangan’s race— love of sorrow for the sake of sorrow and despair and fearful menaces— but where their voice is a supreme entreaty to be borne with forbearance seems only a little grace ; and what is so courteous and so patient as a great faith ?

Every age must look for its sanction to its poetry and philosophy, for in these the human mind, as it looks backward or forward, attains to an eternal state. The philosophic mind inclines always to an elaborate life— the life of Goethe or of Leonardo da Vinci ; but the life of the poet is intense— the life of Blake or of Dante— taking into its centre the life that surrounds it and flinging it abroad again amid planetary music. With Mangan a narrow and hysterical nationality receives a last justification, for when this feeble-bodied figure departs dusk begins to veil the train of the gods, and he who listens may hear their footsteps leaving the world. But the ancient gods, who are visions of the divine names, die and come to life many times, and, though there is dusk about their feet and darkness in their indifferent eyes, the miracle of light is renewed eternally in the imaginative soul. When the sterile and treacherous order is broken up, a voice or a host of voices is heard singing, a little faintly at first, of a serene spirit which enters woods and cities and the hearts of men, and of the life of earth— det dejlige vidunderlige jordliv det gaadefulde jordliv— beautiful, alluring, mysterious.

Beauty, the splendour of truth, is a gracious presence when the imagination contemplates intensely the truth of its own being or the visible world, and the spirit which proceeds out of truth and beauty is the holy spirit of joy. These are realities and these alone give and sustain life. As often as human fear and cruelty, that wicked monster begotten by luxury, are in league to make life ignoble and sullen and to speak evil of death the time is come wherein a man of timid courage seizes the keys of hell and death, and flings them far out into the abyss, proclaiming the praise of life, which the abiding splendour of truth may sanctify, and of death, the most beautiful form of life. In those vast courses which enfold us and in that great memory which is greater and more generous than our memory, no life, no moment of exaltation is ever lost ; and all those who have written nobly have not written in vain, though the desperate and weary have never heard the silver laughter of wisdom. Nay, shall not such as these have part, because of that high, original purpose which remembering painfully or by way of prophecy they would make clear, in the continual affirmation of the spirit ?

 James A. Joyce

February 1, 1902



the Hatter :

The “Hatter’s” paper proved highly interesting. Everyone went home feeling that he knew a great deal more about Mangan’s purpose and aims than he had known when he entered the theatre.

– review of Joyce’s paper on Mangan, in St. Stephen’s, the student magazine at U.C.D., March, 1902


Alice saw her old friend, the Hatter, sitting far back in a corner, raving but thinking beautiful thoughts, produced evidently by the remarks of the White Bishop (of the Cistercian Order) who sat near him.

‘Who is the old woman over there eating feathers and whispering jokes to Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee?’ asked Alice.

‘Hush!’ said the Red Queen, ‘that’s not an old woman, that’s Chanel, St. Stephen’s Chanel’.

‘Anything to St. George’s Channel?’ asked Alice, remembering her geography.

‘Silence! child, you are a West Briton!’

‘But what’s the debate about?’ asked Alice.

‘The Irish Revival, of course,’ said the March Hare. ‘What else could it be on? But you are allowed to discuss any matter you wish’.

‘I will call upon the Hatter to open the debate,’ said the Red Queen. The Hatter, as usual, was dreaming beautiful dreams; but the sharp prod of a needle awoke him. He stood and commenced. Alice, being only human, could not understand but supposed it was all right, although there was much mention of Ibsen, Hauptmann, Bjornson, and Giacosa. Everyone said that it was divine, but no one seemed quite to know what it meant.

– a passage from “Alice at a Debate”, a satirical sketch which made Joyce “the Hatter”, in St. Stephen’s magazine

(“Chanel” was the Confirmation name and nom de plume of Arthur E. Clery, the student president of the Literary and Historical Society in 1900)


Peristan : the Persian fairy-land as found in Thomas Moore’s romance Lalla Rookh

the seeress of Prevorst : Friederike Hauffe (1801–1829), a mystic of Mangan’s day

gulistan : Persian rose-garden ; also, an anthology of verse

Dowland : the lutenist-composer John Dowland (d. 1626) whose songs were enthusiastically championed by Joyce with his fine tenor voice

Azrael : an angel of death, in Mohammedan tradition

The phrase det dejlige vidunderlige jordliv det gaadefulde jordliv is a quotation in Norwegian from Act III of Ibsen’s play, When We Dead Awaken ; it can be translated as “this alluring, wondrous earthly life, this mysterious earthly life”





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Mangan’s Englishing of German verse

Although its stanzas read like the easy and natural expression of an Irish wag’s literary idiom (all the while anticipating the rhyming patter of Percy French, W. S. Gilbert, and Chesterton), THE METEMPSYCHOSIS is one of Clarence Mangan’s translations from the German — in this case a poem from the pen of Ignaz Franz Castelli, an Austrian contemporary.

With all the influence Mangan had upon James Joyce —who loved to recite Mangan’s threnody “The Nameless One”— we might note that in the novel Ulysses the reader encounters the term metempsychosis (Greek for “transmigration of souls” – thank you, Leopold Bloom ; or “met him pike hoses”, as his lady wife, Molly, renders it).

Below that offering is a link to Castelli’s original poem, Die Seelenwanderung, out of which the Irishman made his wonderfully ebullient oversetting. He alters the poem noticeably. For example, the litany of “Leibnitz, Chubb and Toland” (to rhyme with “soul, and…”) is pure added Mangan.

Then please find MY THEMES, which is Mangan’s rendering of Ferdinand Freiligrath’s poem Meine Stoffe (the German original is linked underneath it). Mitigating a reputation as a spurious translator of Oriental verse, we may state that Mangan’s German Orientalist connection, which he turned to his advantage through his proficiency in German, actually reveals an occasionally genuine source of Eastern material, though it is once removed for its Teutonic medium.

Third and last, behold NATURE MORE THAN SCIENCE, Mangan’s exquisite Englishing of Das eine Lied (“The One Song”) by Friedrich Rückert.


                   THE METEMPSYCHOSIS.
I’ve studied sundry treatises by spectacled old sages
.     Anent the capabilities and nature of the soul, and
Its vagabond propensities from even the earliest ages,
.     As harped on by Spinosa, Plato, Leibnitz, Chubb and Toland;
But of all systems I’ve yet met, or p’rhaps shall ever meet with,
Not one can hold a candle to (videlicet, compete with)
The theory of theories Pythagoras proposes,
And called by that profound old snudge (in Greek) Metempsychosis.
It seems to me a pos’tive truth, admitting of no modi-
.     Fication, that the human soul, accustomed to a lodging
Inside a carnal tenement, must, when it quits one body,
.     Instead of sailing to and fro, and profitlessly dodging
About from post to pillar without either pause or purpose,
Seek out a habitation in some other cozy corpus,
And when, by luck, it pops on one with which its habits match, box
Itself therein instanter, like a sentry in a watch-box.
This may be snapped at, sneered at, sneezed at. Deuce may care for cavils.
.     Reason is reason. Credit me, I’ve met at least one myriad
Of instances to prop me up. I’ve seen (upon my travels)
.     Foxes who had been lawyers at (no doubt) some former period;
Innumerable apes, who, though they’d lost their patronymics,
I recognised immediately as mountebanks and mimics,
And asses, calves, etcet’ra, whose rough bodies gave asylum
To certain souls, the property of learn’d professors whilome.
To go on with my catalogue: what will you bet I’ve seen a
.      Goose, that was reckoned in her day a pretty-faced young woman?
But more than that, I knew at once a bloody-lipped hyena
.     To’ve been a Russian Marshal, or an ancient Emperor (Roman).
All snakes and vipers, toads and reptiles, crocodiles and crawlers
I set down as court sycophants or hypocritic bawlers,
And there I may’ve been right or wrong—but nothing can be truer
Than this, that in a scorpion I beheld a vile reviewer.
So far we’ve had no stumbling-block. But now a puzzling question
.     Arises: all the afore-named souls were souls of stunted stature,
Contemptible or cubbish—but Pythag. has no suggestion
    Concerning whither transmigrate souls noble in their nature,
As Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Schiller—these now, for example,
What temple can be found for such appropriately ample?
Where lodge they now?  Not, certes, in our present ninnyhammers,
Who mumble rhymes that seem to’ve been concocted by their Gammers.
Well, then, you see, it comes to this—and after huge reflection
.     Here’s what I say: A soul that gains, by many transmigrations,
The summit, apex, pinnacle, or acmé of perfection,
.     There ends, concludes and terminates its earthly per’grinations.
Then, like an air-balloon, it mounts through high Olympus’ portals,
And cuts its old connections with Mortality and mortals;
And evidence to back me here I don’t know any stronger
Than that the truly Great and Good are found on Earth no longer.



.                           MY THEMES.

.                        TO MY READERS.

.                              (Freiligrath.)


.       “Most weary man !—why wreathest thou
Again and yet again,” methinks I hear you ask,
.       “The turban on thy sunburnt brow?
.          Wilt never vary
.             Thy tristful task,
.       But sing, still sing, of sands and seas as now,
.  Housed in thy willow zumbul on the Dromedary?
.       “Thy tent has now o’ermany times
.  Been pitched in treeless places on old Ammon’s plains!
.       We long to greet in blander climes
.          The Love and Laughter
.             Thy soul disdains.
.       Why wanderest ever thus in prolix rhymes
.  Through snows and stony wastes, while we come toiling after?
.       “Awake!  Thou art as one who dreams;
.  Thy quiver overflows with melancholy sand!
.       Thou faintest in the noontide beams!
.          Thy crystal beaker
.             Of Song is banned!
.       Filled with the juice of poppies from dull streams
.  In sleepy Indian dells, it can but make thee weaker!
.       “O! cast away the deadly draught,
.  And glance around thee then with an awakened eye!
.       The waters healthier bards have quaffed
.          At Europe’s Fountains
.             Still babble by,
.       Bright now as when the Grecian Summer laughed,
.  And Poesy’s first flowers bloomed on Apollo’s mountains!
.        “So many a voice thine era hath,
.  And thou art deaf to all!  O, study Mankind!  Probe
.       The heart!  Lay bare its Love and Wrath,
.          Its Joy and Sorrow!
.             Not round the globe,
.       O’er flood and field and dreary desert-path,
.  But into thine own bosom look, and thence thy marvels borrow.
.       “Weep!  Let us hear thy tears resound
.  From the dark iron concave of Life’s Cup of Woe!
.       Weep for the souls of Mankind, bound
         In chains of Error!
.             Our tears will flow
.       In sympathy with thine when thou hast wound
Our feelings up to the proper pitch of Grief or Terror!
.       “Unlock the life-gates of the flood
.  That rushes through thy veins!  Like Vultures we delight
.       To glut our appetites with blood!
.          Remorse, Fear, Torment,
.             The blackening blight
      Love smites young hearts withal—these be the food
.  For us!  Without such stimulants our dull souls lie dormant!
.       “But no long voyagings—oh, no more
.  Of the weary East or South—no more of the Simoom—
      No apples from the Dead Sea shore—
.          No fierce volcanoes,
.             All fire and gloom!
.       Or else, at most, sing basso, we implore,
.  Of Orient sands, while Europe’s flowers monopolise thy Sopranos!”
.       Thanks, friends, for this your kind advice!
.  Would I could follow it—could bide in balmier lands!
.       But those far arctic tracts of ice,
.          Those wildernesses
.             Of wavy sands,
.       Are the only home I have. They must suffice
.  For one whose lonely hearth no smiling Peri blesses.
.       Yet, count me not the more forlorn
.  For my barbarian tastes. Pity me not. Oh, no!
.       The heart laid waste by Grief or Scorn,
.          Which inly knoweth
.             Its own deep woe,
.       Is the only Desert. There no spring is born
.  Amid the sands—in that no shady Palm-tree groweth!






I have a thousand thousand lays,
.   Compact of myriad myriad words,
And so can sing a million ways,
.   Can play at pleasure on the chords
Of tunèd harp or heart;
.   Yet is there one sweet song
.   For which in vain I pine and long;
I cannot reach that song, with all my minstrel-art!
A shepherd sits within a dell,
.   O’er-canopied from rain and heat:
A shallow but pellucid well
.   Doth ever bubble at his feet.
His pipe is but a leaf,
.   Yet there, above that stream,
.   He plays and plays, as in a dream,
One air that steals away the senses like a thief.
A simple air it seems in truth,
.   And who begins will end it soon;
Yet when that hidden shepherd-youth
.   So pours it in the ear of Noon,
Tears flow from those anear.
.   All songs of yours and mine
.   Condensed in one were less divine
Than that sweet air to sing, that sweet, sweet air to hear!
‘Twas yesternoon he played it last;
.   The hummings of a hundred bees
Were in mine ears, yet, as I passed,
.   I heard him through the myrtle trees.
Stretched all along he lay,
.   ‘Mid foliage half-decayed.
.   His lambs were feeding while he played,
And sleepily wore on the stilly Summer-day.



Ich weiß der Lieder viele,
Und singe was ihr liebt.
Das ist wol gut zum Spiele,
Weil Wechsel Freude giebt;
Doch hätte Lieb’ und Friede
Genug an Einem Liede,
Und fragte nicht, wo’s hundert giebt.

Jüngst sah ich einen Hirten
Im stillen Wiesenthal,
Wo klare Bächlein irrten
Am hellen Sonnenstral.
Er lag am schatt’gen Baume,
Und blies als wie im Traume
Ein Lied auf einem Blättlein schmal.

Das Lied, es mochte steigen
Nur wenig Tön’ hinauf.
Dann mußt’ es hin sich neigen,
Und nahm denselben Lauf.
Es freut’ ihn immer wieder;
Gern hätt’ ich meine Lieder
Geboten all dafür zum Kauf.

Er blies sein Lied, und lies es,
Und sah sich um im Hag,
Hub wieder an und blies es,
Ich schaute wie er lag:
Er sah bei seinem Blasen
Die stillen Lämmlein grasen,
Und langsam fliehn den Sommertag.





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The ten most read Irish authors [part 2]

—Do you understand what he says? Stephen asked her.
—Is it French you are talking, sir? the old woman said to Haines.
Haines spoke to her again a longer speech, confidently.

—Irish, Buck Mulligan said. Is there Gaelic on you?
—I thought it was Irish, she said, by the sound of it. Are you from the west, sir?

—I am an Englishman, Haines answered.
—He’s English, Buck Mulligan said, and he thinks we ought to speak Irish in Ireland.

—Sure we ought to, the old woman said, and I’m ashamed I don’t speak the language myself. I’m told it’s a grand language by them that knows.
                                            – Ulysses, James Joyce


A friend asks : “How many of these works were translated into Erse ?”

Lacking an actual number count, here is one answer (and stick around for the story of Uiliséas below).

To begin conversely, one of the writers in the list of favourites (in the preceding post) was the blind bard Anthony
Raftery (1784 – 1835), a fiddler and poet who composed his rhymes in Gaelic (Erse) ; but some widely read versions of him are English translations, and amongst Ireland’s youngest pupils he is recited in both tongues :


Mise Raifteirí an file,
  I am Raftery the poet

Lán dóchas is grádh,
  Full of hope and love,

Le súile gan solas,
  Eyes without light,

Le ciúnas gan chrá.
  Silence without torment.

‘Dul siar ar m’aistear
  Going west on my journey

Le solas mo chroí
  With the light of my heart

Fann agus tuirseach
  Weak and tired

Go deireadh mo shlíghe.
  To the end of my days.

Féach anois mé,
  Look at me now,

Is mo chúl le bhfalla
  With my back to the wall,

Ag seinm ceoil
  Playing music

Do phócaí folmha.
  To empty pockets.


Then again, there is “Dark Rosaleen” and several other poems from the pen of James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849) that are his English translations of earlier authors who wrote in the Irish language (note that Mangan’s Englished Irish and German works are real translations, unlike his fanciful Oriental upsettings “From the Ottoman”). The Gaelic original of “Dark Rosaleen” bears the synonymous title Róisín Dubh (literally, “Dark Little Rose”), being a sixteenth-century allegory on Ireland’s own plight.

“the self-orientalization of Ireland as we see it in Mangan” –

A collection of Mangan’s poetry –

Some of the plays of O’Casey and Synge have had Gaelic put on them (the idiom is cuir Gaedhilge air sin – “translate that” or “put Irish on that”), and in some cases have even been staged in that form at a festival at Dingle in County Kerry.

The Plough and the Stars = An céachta ‘s na réaltaí

Riders to the Sea = Chun na farraige síos (the title’s literal retranslation is “Down to the Sea”)

More recent labours in the field are Gabriel Rosenstock’s Irish translation of his countryman Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1997 (its first rendering into Irish since that of Seán O Cuirrín in the year 1933 when Seán Mac Maoláin did the same for Carleton’s Fardorougha, the Miser), and then just last year the publication of Luaithreach Angela, which is a translation by Pádraic Breathnach (Ir. Breathnach, a Briton, a Welshman, cf. Brythonic, and surnames Branagh, Walsh[e], Wallace) of Frank McCourt’s memoir of Limerick, Angela’s Ashes.

But the book that took the cake for its heroical Irish translation saga (“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit !”), was James Joyce’s Ulysses. That edifying, Ersifying, Augeian project was commenced when a medical officer named James Henry decided to use his years of retirement from the Royal Air Force in putting Gaelic on the formidably mock-Homerical creation ; and just as Joyce’s book may itself be said to comprise a microcosm of the quidditas Eblanensis (Dublin’s very whatness, if you will), so the act of transmuting it, painstakingly, by turns aided and alone, chapter by chapter, into the Gaelic idiom (which is not at all a Dublin speech phenomenon, hence your first problem), is a process that tells its own tale of the deep scholarly passions, high obstacles, financial pitfalls and strategical blind turns that make up Ireland’s publishing world.

While any translator of Ulysses faces enormous problems, the Irish translators, somewhat paradoxically, faced a number of problems not faced by, say, the French, German, Italian, or Spanish translators. For while each of the latter had the option, to take just one example, of translating the modern urban slang of ‘Oxen of the Sun’ by the appropriate urban sociolects of their own language, in Irish no such urban slang exists, so the translators had to invent it. The results are frequently hilarious, as the agricultural hinterland of Joyce’s Dublin is given its linguistic due – ‘taking coals to Newcastle,’ for example, emerges as ‘ag cuimilt sméire do thón na muice’ (literally, more or less, ‘rubbing muck on a pig’s rump’). ‘Oxen of the Sun’ provided a more general challenge, however, in that the politically interrupted development of Irish as a literary medium during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries deprived the language of an equivalent range of historical styles, and the translators were forced to limit themselves to a much more restricted stylistic palette in Uiliséas, imitating first the style of Old Irish narrative, then those of late-medieval Fenian romances, seventeenth-century historiography, and finally modern Irish narrative.
Polyglot Joyce: Fictions of Translation by Patrick O’Neill

Our critic O’Neill might have added that Dublin was founded, builded and maintained by Norsemen, then conquered, circumscribed and secured under the mailed fist of Anglo-Norman rule, and by 1904 (the year in which Ulysses is set) was a city wholly foreign to the cadence of Gaelic speakers ; nor was Dublin of a mindset or an idiom in its Londonward-looking urbanity that would earn any cultural sympathies “beyond the Pale” in Ireland’s greater Gadelophony.
Incidentally, it was a bit surprising that the Post‘s “Top 10” list gave no mention of Yeats, yet Friel is included. Perhaps it was more a matter of how many “hits” an author got on the linked Questia resource in a “snapshot” profiling of a certain period of time with the counting restricted to a specified subset of users (Georgetown English grad students ?- who knows ?), this as interpreted by The Washington Post in the context of Carolyn Blackman’s compiling their St. Patrick’s Day list for this particular year. Thus Yeats might well have got the heave-ho and Hail O’Duffy. Still, such supposed injustices are an opportunity to plunge in and offer a “Top 100” of Irish authors so as to retip the balance.


Probably the most read Irish author of all, in his day, going word for word count and eyeballs to column inches, was Oliver Goldsmith, not least because he was a prolific poet and journalist (“The Citizen of the World” and a lot of jobbing) and he produced some widely distributed, immensely popular and very influential books of history and natural science : This included An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature (1st ed. 1774), a work in eight volumes which graced the libraries of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Jane Austen. As notable for its engaging narrative tone as for its broadly applied learning, Goldsmith’s “huge compendium of zoological lore” (- M. K. Danziger) was in general use for many decades after the time of its first publication (which was the year of the author’s death, in fact).

But beyond those seemingly skewed (Yeatsless) Questia results, another puzzle was this Joycean critic O’Neill’s notion that “carrying coals to Newcastle” constituted urban slang (it’s a proverbial English idiom of several centuries’ vintage), and then his subsequent inference that ag cuimilt sméire do thón na muice (“smearing muck on the pig’s arse”) could have constituted a Gaelic equivalent of urban slang that was “invented” for the purpose by the translator of Ulysses, Dr. James Henry. It is almost as though the reader were missing a sentence that O’Neill (or his editor) had dropped unintentionally. Incidentally, the buried sense of ag cuimilt sméire do thón na muice is that a person is even taking the trouble —at all— to crush a staining fistful of blackberries (sméire) and rub the resultant mess onto a pig’s already filthy arse (thón, as in póg mo thóin, i.e. K.M.R.I.A.). To be sure the style of imagery is comical, and it is apt as an Irish equivalent replacing the useless task of the coals, but was it ever part of an “appropriate urban sociolect” ?- O’Neill is on safer ground in saying that that piggish instance of metaphorical spilopygia is borrowed from “the agricultural hinterland of Joyce’s Dublin” — a very big cabbage garden. So we are left wondering and waiting for the promised examples of urban slang that were purportedly “invented” to suit Uiliséas. Perhaps Dr. Henry should have brought in Anthony Burgess as a consultant, but what a noble achievement nonetheless !



Eavan Boland
Eva Gore-Booth
Joseph Campbell (no, not the mythologist and Wake scholar)
Douglas Hyde
P. W. Joyce (onomastics)
F. S. L. Lyons (history)
Rev. Francis Mahony (“Father Prout”)*
Thomas Moore (Melodies)
Moira O’Neill** (Songs of the Glens of Antrim) was the nom de plume of Agnes Nesta Shakespeare Higginson (later Mrs. Skrine) ; she was the mother of Molly Keane (née Mary Nesta Skrine, whose own nom de plume was “M. J. Farrell” – a name she borrowed from the sign on a public house to spare her the scandal amongst her kind of being identified as a female novelist)
Theobald Wolfe Tone (diarist)***
Katharine Tynan


*The Final Reliques of Father Prout


** Moira O’Neill –


***Tone’s memoirs –



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