Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Catherine McKenna

Committee Members

Jane Marcus

Joshua Wilner

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Feathered Glory explores the relevance of the medieval Irish character Suibhne, usually anglicized as Sweeney, to twentieth-century writers. Suibhne is the protagonist of the twelfth-century text Buile Suibhne, in which he is depicted as a minor king who goes mad on the field of battle, abandons his kingdom and his role in society, and flies like a bird into the woods, where he becomes a poet of exceptional power and beauty. This tale languished in obscurity for many centuries, but following J. G. O'Keeffe's publication of a scholarly edition and English translation of Buile Suibhne in 1913, Suibhne has come to serve as an important precursor figure for a number of modern writers, especially in Ireland. My dissertation opens with an examination of the medieval Suibhne, with particular emphasis on his role as a figure of the artist, and then moves on to consider three of the most substantive twentieth-century iterations of his tale: Flann O'Brien's exuberantly experimental novel At Swim-Two-Birds, Seamus Heaney's volumes Sweeney Astray and Station Island, and the unfinished play Sweeney Agonistes as well as four poems by T. S. Eliot that feature the character Sweeney, who bears a significant thematic resemblance to the medieval Suibhne.

While these texts vary widely both in form and in the use they make of the figure of Suibhne, they share an interest in the role and portrayal of the artist that tends toward a modernist revision of the Romantic model. Buile Suibhne supplies particularly fertile material for such a project, for the text embodies numerous tensions relevant to the role of the artist, most notably conflicts among the political, religious, and aesthetic realms and an internal contradiction between the solitary model of the poet that the work seems to extol and the anonymous, collective process by which the text itself was compiled. Walter Benjamin's groundbreaking work on reproduction is a theoretical lynchpin of my analysis, together with Jacques Derrida's discussion of iteration in "Signature Event Context" and Limited, Inc..


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.