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Country Bumpkin and Cosmopolitan: Some Versions of Postcolonial Pastoral


The pastoral mode has historically been dismissed for what some scholars see as its aestheticization of the brutal realities of agricultural labor and rural life. This essay, however, complicates what critics have considered the inherently conservative ideology of the pastoral. I contend that contemporary Irish poets such as Seamus Heaney and John Montague mobilize the literary mode’s generic conventions to critique the processes of modernization at work in postwar Ireland that displaced their rural communities. In and , the pastoral opens up a language of socioeconomic critique unavailable in political discourse, dominated as it often was by proponents of modernization who derided the rural community as a bastion of backward nationalism or by conservative politicians who idealized it as a sanctuary of traditional values. These poets are acutely aware of the multiple ironies embedded within the pastoral, the discursive power of which can reveal the contradictions in politico-economic ideology and cultural expression in modern Ireland.

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