Cronin, Anthony

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CRONIN, Anthony

Nationality: Irish. Born: Enniscorthy, County Wexford, 28 December 1926. Education: Blackrock College, Dublin, 1939–45; University College, Dublin, 1945–48, B.A. Family: Married Thérèse Campbell in 1955; two daughters. Career: Associate editor, The Bell, Dublin, 1952–54; literary editor, Time and Tide, London, 1956–58; visiting lecturer, University of Montana, Missoula, 1966–68; poet-inresidence, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, 1968–70. Cultural and artistic adviser to the Irish Prime Minister, 1980–83; member, Aosdána. Since 1987 columnist, Irish Times, Dublin, 1973–86. Awards: Marten Toonder award, 1983. Agent: Reg Davis-Poynter, 118 St. Pancras, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 4LH, England. Address: Office, 18 Curzon Street, Dublin 8, Ireland.



Poems. London, Cresset Press, 1957.

Collected Poems, 1950–1973. Dublin, New Writers' Press, 1973.

Reductionist Poem. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1980.

R.M.S. Titanic. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1981.

41 Sonnet-Poems 82. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1982.

New and Selected Poems. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, and Manchester, Carcanet, 1982.

Letter to an Englishman. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1985.

The End of the Modern World. Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1989.

Relationships. Dublin, New Island Books, 1994.

The Minotaur: And Other Poems. Dublin, New Island Books, 1999.


The Shame of It (produced Dublin, 1973). Published in Dublin Magazine, 1971.

Screenplay: The Chief, 1976.


The Life of Riley. London, Secker and Warburg, and New York, Knopf, 1964.

Identity Papers. Dublin, Irish Writers' Cooperative, 1979.


A Question of Modernity (essays). London, Secker and Warburg, 1966.

Dead As Doornails: A Chronicle of Life. Dublin, Dolmen Press, and London, Calder and Boyars, 1976.

Heritage Now: Irish Literature in the English Language. Dingle, County Kerry, Brandon, 1982; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1983.

An Irish Eye (essays). Dingle, County Kerry, Brandon, 1985.

Ireland: A Week in the Life of a Nation, edited by Red Saunders and Syd Shelton. London, Century Hutchinson, 1986.

Art for the People? Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1988.

No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O'Brien. London, Grafton, 1989.

Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist. London, Harper Collins, 1996; New York, Harper Collins, 1997.

Editor, The Courtship of Phelim O'Toole by William Carleton. London, New English Library, 1962.


Manuscript Collection: University of Texas, Austin.

Critical Studies: "The Disinherited Muse" by Michael Kane, in The Dublin Magazine (Dublin), July 1970; "A Vision of Reality" by Paul Durcan, in Structure (Dublin), 2(2), 1973; "Anthony Cronin: Artistic Essences" by Anthony Burgess, in In Dublin (Dublin), 17 December 1982; by R. Tillinghast, in New Criterion (New York), 17(1), 1998.

Anthony Cronin comments:

Fortunately for us all, there is a lot of free-floating poetry in the world. The poet's object is to trap some of this floating poetry, to bottle it you could say. But such poetry is not always immediately recognizable in its raw state. One person's floating poetry may be another person's poisonous fog. Only after it has been successfully bottled will others recognize it as poetry: Baudelaire's urban imagery, Yeats's phases of the moon, Eliot's ignobilities, Auden's pumping engines.

Most of the floating poetry of the world has never been bottled by anybody, but those who write poetry are generally so responsive to the potency of their predecessors' bottled products that they incline to overlook their own most immediately to-hand raw material. They go on searching for and bottling that which others have already made unmistakably their own rather than that which is under their noses.

One of the best things about being at it for some time is that you begin to recognize more quickly where your own poetry is not to be found, however much you think it should be, and where it is, however unpromising, unworthy, and unpoetic the raw stuff may seem to others. The bottling process involves bringing this free-floating poetry into combination with the inherent poetry of words so that it undergoes a chemical change that will enable others ultimately to recognize it for what it is. But one has to do this in such a way that it does not leak, or explode, or lose its efficacy. And that of course is the difficulty.

*  *  *

Anthony Cronin's poetic career has been molded by an ambition to combine the political and philosophical in his work. He is a philosopher by nature, and his effort to understand both his own country and the modern world is chronicled in his poetry. He has resisted Irish categories, distrusting the peasant mold and the society created by "peasant proprietors," both commercial and academic. Therefore, he has made poetry on a grand scale and shunned the local and the precious. "You could put anything into poems—one's attitudes about society, one's feelings about religion, even about art and literature, why not?" he said to Fintan O'Toole in an interview. The great pleasure of his work then is in its broad sweep:

   For the heart cannot rest among the ill-considered
      spaces of the suburbs
   Where the Spring wind twitches the bushes
   And the fearful but ambitious families live, each
      behind its fence,
   Nor among the high-rise towers which have size
      without permanence
   And are homes without reassurance.

A constant search for some believable artistic and political pattern has produced Cronin's best works, R.M.S. Titanic and The End of the Modern World. In a preface to the former work Paul Durcan wrote that "R.M.S. Titanic stands in relation to 20th-Century Western Society as does The Deserted Village to 18th-Century Western Society; in proportion and scale, in tenor and scope …" Cronin himself has said that the immediate inspiration for the poem was the film A Night to Remember, with Kenneth More as Third Officer Lightoller. Within the narrative of the Titanic's sinking Cronin has woven oral antipapist slogans, traditional songs, and general social history: "Sick in the bilboes of the world the poor / Cling to each other …" The Titanic's sinking confirms the poet's unease about Western society as a class-ridden vessel is wrecked at the very nadir of modern arrogance: "The lights were suddenly darkened, / Bringing the consciousness of error."

Cronin's later work continues the exploration of anxiety and political decline. In his Irish Times essays and in books like the novel Identity Papers and A Question of Modernity, a collection of essays, he ventilates his philosophical positions. He speaks out against tyranny of every kind with an almost undergraduate fearlessness. Contrary to what his enemies have said, Cronin is his own man. Like many socialists, he has attached himself to popular-front personalities as a method of immediately influencing Irish society. There are few cultural commentators in Ireland with Cronin's combination of Joycean learning and Malraux-like pragmatism, and there are no literary critics capable of understanding the creativeness of his involvement in cultural politics. It is strange that those who are brought up on the poems of Yeats, the poet who was duty bound to his country and "the management of men," cannot make the imaginative leap required to understand Cronin's work in government. Of course, like all things in Ireland, there is a great deal of personal envy involved when peers judge Cronin's work.

In his book-length sonnet sequence The End of the Modern World Cronin gathers up all of the material of thirty years of thought, combines all of his reading in European philosophy and history, and tats the lot into an autobiographical sonnet web. He focuses upon personal aspects of world events, upon artists as witnesses: Baudelaire, de Sade, Rilke, Gauguin, Yeats, Elvis Presley. Poetry, or rather the comprehending artist as witness, is the hero of the sequence. The poet's personal life breaks through as an antidote to grand gestures:

   I joined the NUJ. I wrote long pieces
   About the need of state support for artists,
   Tried to define an order in which art
   Might find itself the breath of common being.

In keeping with Cronin's fearlessness, the sequence is an ambitious one. It closes with a series of sonnets that are wholly concerned with art, with Gauguin and Van Gogh. The last poem presents us with an image of Manhattan as "meaningless, astonishing and simple." As always, the cast of Cronin's mind is philosophical. His prosody is often awkward, and there is a sameness in his verbal technique, but his poems soar with the helium of ideas. It is through complex speculation that he has escaped the literary meanness of Ireland.

—Thomas McCarthy

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