This study constitutes the first-ever definitive account of the life and work of Irish modernist poets Thomas MacGreevy, Brian Coffey, and Denis Devlin. Apprenticed to the likes of W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, all three writers worked at the center of modernist letters in England, France, and the United States, but did so from a distinctive perspective. All three writers wrote with a deep commitment to the intellectual life of Catholicism and saw the new movement in the arts as making possible for the first time a rich sacramental expression of the divine beauty in aesthetic form. MacGreevy spent his life trying to voice the Augustinian vision he found in The City of God. Coffey, a student of neo-Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain, married scholastic thought and a densely wrought poetics to give form and solution to the alienation of modern life. Devlin contemplated the world with the eyes of Montaigne and the heart of Pascal as he searched for a poetry that could realize the divine presence in the experience of the modern person. Taken together, MacGreevy, Coffey, and Devlin exemplify the modern Catholic intellectual seeking to engage the modern world on its own terms while drawing the age toward fulfillment within the mystery and splendor of the Church. They stand apart from their Irish contemporaries for their religious seriousness and cosmopolitan openness to European modernism. They lay bare the theological potencies of modern art and do so with a sophistication and insight distinctive to themselves.
Although MacGreevy, Coffey, and Devlin have received considerable critical attention in the past, this is the first book to study their work comprehensively, from MacGreevy’s early poems and essays on Joyce and Eliot to Coffey’s essays in the neo-scholastic philosophy of science, and on to Devlin’s late poetic attempts to realize Dante’s divine vision in a Europe shattered by war and modern doubt.
"Wilson brings to his subject considerable expertise in the theological and philosophical contexts of Catholicism. These authors' relationship with the Catholic Church, and the dialogue between Irish and European Catholicism, are illuminated to fascinating ends."~Sarah Bennett, Durham University