Literature of the Bardic Revival

Mary-Ann Constantine

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Literature of the Bardic Revival

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The term “bardic poetry” primarily refers to the work of professional guilds of poets in the medieval period, particularly in the Celtic-speaking countries of the British Isles. The important body of scholarship on this material is not the chief focus of this article, which is concerned with much later literary responses to the figure of the bard as it emerged through antiquarian studies and translations in the mid- to late 18th century and beyond. The bard (also figured as the Anglo-Saxon scop or the Scandinavian skald), conceived both as the memory and the voice of his people, became an extraordinarily potent character for writers throughout Europe in the Romantic period and inspired some of the period’s most influential works. The bardic revival (or “neobardism”) is intimately connected with the phenomenon of Celticism, the primitivist “rediscovery” of the native Celtic languages and cultures of the British Isles and Brittany. This article focuses mainly on works dealing with writing from the British Isles, where English-language poetry such as Thomas Gray’s The Bard (1757) and James Macpherson’s Ossian (1759–1763) produced a host of imitators and even influenced the surviving native bardic traditions in Welsh, Irish, and Scots Gaelic. The revival also contributed to the growth of what has been termed “bardic nationalism,” a resurgence of cultural confidence within the Celtic-speaking countries that fed into later nationalist movements. Fictional representations of the bard in novels or “national tales” can also be read as articulating these concerns. The figure of the bard, then, while offering a window into the past, inevitably became part of a wider political discussion about loyalties and identities in the relatively new polity of “Great Britain.” Bardic revival poetry was also at the heart of several notorious literary controversies—the “Ossian scandal” chief among them—as alternative versions of the past were offered and contested, and the lines between translation and invention became blurred.

Article.  6412 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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