Introduction by A. Norman Jeffares
During the past decades there has been a substantial body of bibliographical, critical and biographical material published testifying to Stephens' significance as poet, novelist, essayist, and short story writer. There has been an edition of his Letters by Richard J. Finneran (1974) and a two volume Uncollected Prose edited by Patricia McFate (1983). In addition, some of his prose works have been reprinted (The Crock of Gold; Irish Fairy Tales; Deirdre and The Insurrection in Dublin are presently listed by Amazon.co.uk), so a volume of Stephens' poetry is long overdue.
At the present time it is virtually impossible to locate any volume of Stephens’ poetry outside a library. In the case of his Collected Poems (1954), even if one finds a copy, it is difficult to evaluate the poet's progress, influences, or interests at any given period since the poems are arranged thematically under charming but elusive titles which, for the most part, tell nothing about the contents or period of their composition, although we are at least fortunate that the last three books in that volume are chronologically arranged. Furthermore, over one hundred poems published in volumes, in magazines, or newspapers were omitted from the Collected Poems. A complete chronological collection of James Stephens' poetry is therefore necessary if readers are to be encouraged to enjoy and study his work in depth, and that is what the present editor provides.
This volume contains more than 320 poems by Stephens, a biographical and critical introduction by A. Norman Jeffares (his last work before his death in 2005), as well as notes, indexes to titles and first lines, and an Appendix listing those poems that appeared in the 1954 Collected Poems. It is an essential adjunct to the library of every lover of Irish poetry.
The Insurrection in Dublin was first published in October 1916, barely six months after the Irish Volunteers’ Easter Rising took place. The text was never revised so that it has retained the sense of immediacy that makes it one of the classic works of the period.
James Stephens is best known as the author of The Crock of Gold and The Demi Gods as well as for his poetry, but as AE wrote in his review of this work: ‘he has the most vivid senses of any Irishman now writing. He kept a journal day by day, writing down what saw with those keen eyes of his. They are the eyes of the poet and storyteller interested a thousand times more in the character of life, in studying behaviour under abnormal circumstances, than in any other aspects of the rising.’ These qualities have kept this book recurrently in print.
John A. Murphy, who was Professor of Irish History at University College Cork, NUI, has contributed an Introduction and Afterword which set the Rising in its historial context, and assess the impact that it had on Ireland at the time and the subsequent events that led up to the foundation of the Irish Free State.