Authors: Thomas Kinsella

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Irish poet

Author Works


The Starlit Eye, 1952

Three Legendary Sonnets, 1952

The Death of a Queen, 1956

Poems, 1956

Another September, 1958, revised 1962

Moralities, 1960

Poems and Translations, 1961

Downstream, 1962

Six Irish Poets, 1962

Wormwood, 1966

Nightwalker, and Other Poems, 1968

Poems, 1968 (with Douglas Livingstone and Anne Sexton)

Tear, 1969

Butcher’s Dozen, 1972

A Selected Life, 1972

Finistere, 1972

Notes from the Land of the Dead, and Other Poems, 1972

New Poems, 1973

Selected Poems, 1956-1968, 1973

Vertical Man, 1973

The Good Fight: A Poem for the Tenth Anniversary of the Death of John F. Kennedy, 1973

One, 1974

A Technical Supplement, 1976

Song of the Night, and Other Poems, 1978

The Messenger, 1978

Fifteen Dead, 1979

One, and Other Poems, 1979

Peppercanister Poems, 1972-1978, 1979

Poems, 1956-1973, 1979

One Fond Embrace, 1981, 1988

Songs of the Psyche, 1985

Her Vertical Smile, 1985

St. Catherine’s Clock, 1987

Blood and Family, 1988

Madonna, and Other Poems, 1991

Open Court, 1991

Poems From Centre City, 1994

The Pen Shop, 1997

The Familiar, 1999

Godhead, 1999

Citizen of the World, 2000

Littlebody, 2000

Collected Poems, 1956-2001, 2001


Davis, Mangan, Ferguson? Tradition and the Irish Writer, 1970 (with W. B. Yeats)

The Dual Tradition: An Essay on Poetry and Politics in Ireland, 1995


The Breastplate of Saint Patrick, 1954 (revised as Faeth Fiadha: The Breastplate of Saint Patrick, 1957)

Longes mac n-Usnig, Being the Exile and Death of the Sons of Usnech, 1954

Thirty-three Triads, Translated from the XII Century Irish, 1955

The Táin, 1969 (of Táin bó Cuailnge)

An Duanaire, 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed, 1981 (with Sean O Tuama)

Edited Text:

The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, 1986


The generous international critical response that contemporary Irish poetry has received tends to overlook the poetry of Thomas Kinsella. Yet his body of work has provided a prosodic and cultural yardstick against which the poetry of his Irish contemporaries may be measured. He is a native Dubliner, and his devotion to Dublin’s cityscape and to the people of its core has a central significance in his poetry, charting a heartfelt terrain marked by the depredations of time and the callousness of power but also graced by fidelity and persistence.{$I[AN]9810001852}{$I[A]Kinsella, Thomas}{$I[geo]IRELAND;Kinsella, Thomas}{$I[tim]1928;Kinsella, Thomas}

Thomas Kinsella

Kinsella’s attachment to Dublin, which has performed the important cultural duty of keeping the city on the country’s poetic map, functions both as homage and critique. The homage has its source in the city life of his childhood–his father, memorably commemorated in the long poem “The Messenger,” worked at the Guinness brewery. Kinsella attended University College, Dublin, and subsequently had a successful career in the Irish civil service. His critique of contemporary Dublin–“Nightwalker” is a particularly powerful instance–derives in part from his civil service years.

In 1958, Kinsella married Eleanor Walsh, with whom he would have three children. In 1965, he left the civil service and accepted a teaching position at the University of Southern Illinois. A consolidation of the reputation established by his early work quickly ensued with such collections as Wormwood and Nightwalker, and Other Poems. These books throw into starker relief the agonistic Kinsella inscribed in the personae of the early poems. These personae represent at once the most challenging and the most familiar aspects of Kinsella’s poetry. They articulate a fretful, restless, rootless state of mind, replete with existential anguish and deprived of a culture or value system that might alleviate it–as, for example, in “Baggot Street Deserta” and “A Country Walk.”

Kinsella left Southern Illinois in 1970 to take up a professorship of English at Temple University. Throughout his career, he had been intimately connected with Dolmen Press, a small Dublin publishing house that sought to maintain the Irish small-press tradition and that had been Kinsella’s publisher from the early 1950’s, when his first pamphlets of verse appeared. The cultural dimension of this involvement found further expression in the establishment of Kinsella’s own press, Peppercanister, in 1972. Beginning with Butcher’s Dozen in 1972, this press published most of Kinsella’s subsequent verse and has permitted him to publish long poems and extended poetic sequences in a booklet form that does not have to conform to the whims of the marketplace. Control and ownership of the means of his own poetic production is a resonant cultural achievement of which the poet is well aware, as his critical writings demonstrate.

Both Blood and Family and From Centre City, published by a commercial house, are essentially collections of the later Peppercanister poems. In keeping with the publishing commitment of Peppercanister, these later poems have a more public dimension while preserving and refining the existentialist energy and neomodernist prosody of his earlier work. Particularly expressive of the Kinsella aesthetic is the manner in which these poems explore the concept of sequence, in both its formal and temporal senses. Among the better-known of the Peppercanister poems are “Butcher’s Dozen,” dealing with the events and repercussions of Bloody Sunday, Derry, Northern Ireland, 1972; “The Good Fight,” commemorating the tenth anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy; and “The Messenger.” From an imaginative as well as a cultural perspective, Peppercanister is a unique accomplishment in contemporary Irish literature.

Kinsella’s cultural commitments may also be appreciated in the place occupied by the Irish language in his work. Many of his contemporaries have translated or otherwise availed themselves of the rich repository of Irish verse. In Kinsella’s case, however, the attempt to reconstitute a usable past in Irish poetry is a crucial expression of attempts to come to terms with the alienation, solitude, inarticulateness, and lack of cultural values that suffuse his poetry. This attempt is on one hand doomed to failure, since the Gaelic world that it addresses is irretrievably lost as a viable polity and as a living culture. On the other hand, to express the dimensions of the loss, and to give it imaginative and linguistic form in translation, is an act of impressive cultural piety, integrity, and conviction. This act of retrieval and homage attains optimum thematic range and expressive versatility in his translations for An Duanaire. Kinsella’s translation of the medieval epic Táin bó Cuailnge, one of the most important legendary cycles of Irish culture, is still the standard translation used in classrooms throughout the English-speaking world.

In all the major aspects of his career–his sense of Dublin, the spiritual openness of his existential soundings, the cherishing of verse as a material production in his publishing activity, and the cultural drama implicit in his translations from the Irish–Kinsella has traversed a singular and solitary path. As a result, he has seemed somewhat eccentric to developments in contemporary Irish poetry. It might also be argued that it is the distinctive trajectory of his career and commitments that makes his poetry a landmark in twentieth century Irish literature.

BibliographyAbbate Badin, Donatella. Thomas Kinsella. New York: Twayne, 1996. An introductory biography and critical interpretation of selected works by Kinsella. Includes bibliographical references and index.Harmon, Maurice. The Poetry of Thomas Kinsella. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1974. The author provides an overview of many of Kinsella’s achievements, as well as helpful background information. Kinsella’s preoccupation with the Irish language is also dealt with, and close readings of the major poems are offered. In addition, the poet’s prosodical originality is analyzed. A valuable introductory guide.Harmon, Maurice. Thomas Kinsella: Designing for the Exact Needs. Dublin: Irish Academic, 2008. This volume offers a comprehensive examination of Kinsella’s works, looking at them chronologically and grouping them based on similar styles and attitudes. The themes of his poems are also discussed along with his focus on politics and life in Dublin.Jackson, Thomas H. The Whole Matter: The Poetic Evolution of Thomas Kinsella. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1995. A comprehensive overview of Kinsella’s achievement.John, Brian. “Irelands of the Mind: The Poetry of Thomas Kinsella and Seamus Heaney.” Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 15 (December, 1989): 68-92. An analysis of the cultural implications of the two most important Irish poets of their generation. Kinsella’s severe lyricism is contrasted with Heaney’s more sensual verse. The two poets’ senses of place, time, and history are also examined. The visions of Ireland produced are important evidence of the contemporary debate about Irish national identity.John, Brian. Reading the Ground: The Poetry of Thomas Kinsella. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996. A comprehensive study of Kinsella’s poetry. John explores the poet’s development within both the Irish and the English contexts and defines the nature of his poetic achievement.Johnston, Dillon. “Kinsella and Clarke.” In Irish Poetry After Joyce. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985. Kinsella’s debt to his most important Irish poetic mentor is discussed. The origins and thrust of Kinsella’s satirical tendencies are identified and analyzed. The poet’s standing in the tradition of modern Irish poetry is also evaluated. An essential contribution to recent Irish literary history.McGuinness, Arthur E. “Fragments of Identity: Thomas Kinsella’s Modernist Imperative.” Colby Library Quarterly 23 (December, 1987): 186-205. The poet’s debt to, in particular, T. S. Eliot’s theory and practice of poetry is considered. Kinsella’s prosody is located in the context of modernism. His emotional timbre is evaluated in the light of the same context. The essay valuably addresses Kinsella’s international poetic influences.O’Hara, Daniel. “An Interview with Thomas Kinsella.” Contemporary Poetry 4, no. 1 (1981): 1-18. The most comprehensive of the small number of Kinsella interviews. The poet speaks freely about his various artistic concerns, concentrating on his poetic practice. The intellectual atmosphere is bracing. Kinsella’s interiority and the question of its formal consequences receive much attention.O’Hara, Daniel. “Love’s Architecture: The Poetic Irony of Thomas Kinsella.” Boundary 2, no. 9 (Winter, 1981): 123-135. An elaborate theoretical assessment of Kinsella’s achievement. The essay’s approach is indebted to the criticism of Harold Bloom. The chief focus is on the metaphysical dimension of Kinsella’s lyrics. A rigorous, intense account of Kinsella’s art.Skloot, Floyd. “The Evolving Poetry of Thomas Kinsella.” New England Review 18, no. 4 (Fall, 1997): 174-187. Skloot reviews The Collected Poems, 1956-1994 and in the process examines Kinsella’s evolving style and themes. Offers a good retrospective look at Kinsella’s body of work.Tubridy, Derval. Thomas Kinsella: The Peppercanister Poems. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2001. A study of the poetry Kinsella has published with his own press.
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