Denis Donoghue: Quiet Dubliner

Faculty Profile

Dr. Denis Donoghue, on leave from University College in Dublin, may be the first professor in the history of the Summer School to be evicted from Boylston Auditorium because of the size of his classes. Students in Donoghue's courses on Modern British and American Poetry (which he is pleased to hear described as a "fun course") and Modern British Drama undergo the hardships of doing without reading lists and sitting on the stage and in the aisles.

Latecomers often trickle out into the hallways. Changing the lectures to Sever 211 has not altered the situation greatly. But sore backs and cramped legs are small penance for hearing the melodious, mild Irish brogue of Dr. Donoghue discourse on Yeats, Eliot, Shaw, and Stevens. For the rest of this year (this is his first visit to the United States) Donoghue will not teach, but prepare to write "The Ideas of Order in Modern American Poetry" at the University of Pennsylvania.

Vital Cambridge

Cambridge is quite a change from Dublin, where the professor has lectured approximately ten hours a week for about nine years (with a three-year interval in the "unreal, Kafka-like prison of the Irish Civil Service"). So far, the vitality and the variety to be found in Cambridge appeal to Donoghue, although he would not like to settle permanently amidst the clamor of urban life. He feels that "the range of conversation" and the "multiplicity of viewpoints" here are "wider than at any other European university." He finds the faculty also very "lively and flexible in their viewpoints and in their willingness to accept new ideas.

Like many people, Professor Donoghue is impressed with the "intense hospitality" of the Harvard Summer School atmosphere. This causes him to wonder how much reading is actually done by the summer student body, but he is somewhat comforted by the large crowds to be found in the library.


On the other hand, he is fascinated by the tremendous number of people who are actually "putting pen to paper," writing and composing, in the Cambridge area.

Arriving in America has been a "crystallization" of many years of study, writing, and correspondence for Donoghue. He will visit many friends with whom he has been corresponding, such as the poet Richard Eberhart and the historian and philosopher Hannah Arendt.

Editor of Yeats

His first book, The Third Voice, was published by Princeton University Press in 1959 and a second, entitled The Human Image in Modern Literature, will soon be released. A study and criticism of Yeats will be released in 1965 during the centennial of the poet's birth. Donoghue will be an editor of this criticism and will write one of the chapters. The professor interprets his own works to be "an attempt to involve literary criticism" with the mainstream of daily life. Although this may result in an "impure literary criticism," he hopes that it will be more vital and human, even if a bit "more messy."

Professor Donoghue cannot imagine how a person can keep up with the torrid pace of life in our larger cities, particularly New York. He feels that a man must lead a "marginal equivalent of existence" amid such surroundings, and prefers the tranquility of his Dublin home, where he lives with his wife and six children (his share of "helping to alleviate the Irish population decline"). Some men, he acknowledges, may be able to live amidst a fast pace while still keeping "a silent place in their hearts" but such a life is not for him.

Donoghue concedes the importance of different experiences in a man's life, but feels that a man must practice selectivity since he is endowed with only one, "not five lives." It is more important to him to concentrate on a few favorite areas and subjects than to try to sample "a bit of everything" in his life.

Heresy of Eliot

The gentleness of Dublin may be part of the reason why Professor Donoghue finds so much meaning in ordinary human experience and resents the "super sophistication and concern for extreme" to be found in some of the works of T.S. Eliot and other modernists. These poets assume a heretical, "non-Christian" attitude and imply that the common man and ordinary human experience are meaningless. Donoghue feels that man should be respected for what he is. "There is no need to canonize an ordinary person as this "gives short shrift to the value of human life."

Perhaps Professor Donoghue is suggesting that the many aspiring writers in Cambridge this summer would do well to follow the advice of Wallace Stevens: "The great poems of heaven and hell have been written, but the great poem of earth is yet to be done."

Recommended Articles