Famous Irish Poems

Written by Ryan Grace on 22/08/2022

Ireland is known as “the land of saints and scholars”. For centuries this small island has produced many acclaimed poets whose work is revered worldwide.

This article will take a glance at some of the most well-known poems of top Irish poets.

William Butler Yeats

W.B. Yeats is one of the most well-known poets to have stemmed from Ireland. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. He wrote well known poems such as The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Stolen Child and Easter 1916.

The following poem is named He wishes for the cloths of Heaven. This beautiful love poem explores the sentiment of wanting to shower a loved one in gifts but having nothing but dreams to give. The poem was written in 1899 and is full of hope that the relationship in the poem will be successful.

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Oscar Wilde

Although most commonly thought of as a playwright, Oscar Wilde wrote some famous poems throughout his life. One of his most famous poems, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, tells of Wilde’s time in prison. Wilde was incarcerated towards the end of his life for homosexuality which was illegal in his lifetime.

The lengthy 654 line poem tells the story of Charles Wooldridge, a man who was executed at Reading jail for murdering his wife in a fit of jealousy. The execution left a mark on Wilde as he struggled through a dark time in his own life. The main theme is loss, with Wilde reflecting that men often lose the things they love through their own actions. Here is a stanza from the first section of the poem:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney is one of Ireland’s most heralded poets. He was born in northern Ireland and lived in Dublin for many years. His poems explore memories of childhood, loss and nature. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and the T.S. Elliot Prize in 2006. Throughout his career, he lectured at Queen’s University Belfast, Harvard and Oxford. Digging is the first poem in his first published work which was released in 1966.

Digging explores Heaney’s family and the idea of breaking away from family tradition. It paints a picture of life in rural Ireland. Instead of following in the footsteps of the generations of farmers that came before him, Heaney found his life in poetry. This poem explores the theme of finding one's own identity while respecting the generations that came before.

Watching his father dig in the flowerbeds of the garden, he is reminded of the years spent watching his father and grandfather harvest potatoes and cut turf for the fire. Here is an extract from the poem:

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

Comparing his own work with that of his father and grandfather, he ends the poem:

between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests/I’ll dig with it.

There are many other beautiful poems penned by famous Irish poets. Other writers worth exploring include James Joyce, Eavan Boland, John Montague and Katharine Tynan.

With so many poets stemming from Ireland, there really is a poem for everyone to enjoy.

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