Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-s82fj Total loading time: 0.405 Render date: 2022-10-04T08:26:14.784Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": true, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

16 - On ‘The Friendship of Young Poets’: Douglas Dunn, Michael Longley and Derek Mahon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 April 2011

Fran Brearton
Queen's University Belfast
Peter Mackay
Queen's University Belfast
Edna Longley
Queen's University Belfast
Fran Brearton
Queen's University Belfast
Get access


Douglas Dunn's sonnet ‘The Friendship of Young Poets’, from his second collection, The Happier Life (1972), celebrates what its speaker also claims to have missed out on in his youth. ‘My youth’, he writes, ‘was as private / As the bank at midnight, and in its safety / No talking behind backs, no one alike enough / To be pretentious with and quote lines at’. If there is a certain security and solidity to this kind of isolation, there is also by implication an acknowledgement that allied with the youthful pretension of young poet-friends is a competitive and critical dialogue that helps bring the mature poetic voice into being. Significantly, the poem is also, in its way, a love poem, evocative of Morgan's ‘The Unspoken’, with its ‘talking in whispers in crowded bars / Suspicious enough to be taken for love’. The love of literature, talking about poetry in public, is as potentially subversive as the homosexual love that dare not speak its name in Morgan's poem. There may be a 1890s homoeroticism and decadence to the ‘Two young men, one rowing, one reading aloud. / Their shirt sleeves fill with wind …’; but the closing image – ‘from the oars / Drop scales of perfect river like melting glass’ – is about capturing in poetry an ideal, and therefore in true decadent sense a transient beauty, a passing moment symbolic also of the aesthetic potential inherent in the friendship.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Douglas, Dunn, ‘The Friendship of Young Poets’, The Happier Life (London: Faber, 1972), 14Google Scholar
Edwin, Morgan, ‘The Unspoken’, New Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2000), 36Google Scholar
Michael, Longley, ‘A Boat on the River: 1960–1969’, Watching the River Flow: A Century in Irish Poetry, ed. Duffy, Noel and Dorgan, Theo (Dublin: Poetry Ireland, 1999), 141Google Scholar
John, Brown, In the Chair: Interviews with Poets from the North of Ireland (Cliffs of Moher: Salmon, 2002), 89Google Scholar
Michael, Longley, ‘To Derek Mahon’, No Continuing City (London: Macmillan, 1969), 55Google Scholar
Crawford, Robert and Kinloch, David (eds.), Reading Douglas Dunn (Edinburgh University Press, 1992), 5
Jody, Allen-Randolph, ‘Derek Mahon: Bibliography’, Irish University Review 24:1 (Spring/Summer 1994), 132Google Scholar
Derek, Mahon, ‘Introduction’, The Sphere Book of Modern Irish Poetry (London: Sphere, 1972), 12Google Scholar
Douglas, Dunn, Love or Nothing (London: Faber, 1974), 19–21.Google Scholar
Wallace, Stevens, ‘The Snowman’, Collected Poems (London: Faber, 1955), 10Google Scholar
Hugh, Haughton, The Poetry of Derek Mahon (Oxford University Press, 2007), 93Google Scholar
Derek, Mahon, ‘Going Home’, The Snow Party (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), 6Google Scholar
Douglas, Dunn, ‘The Poetry of the Troubles’, review of Michael Longley, Selected Poems, 1963–1980, in Times Literary Supplement (31 July 1981), 886Google Scholar
Dunn, Douglas (ed.), ‘Introduction’, Two Decades of Irish Writing: A Critical Survey (Cheadle: Carcanet, 1975), 2–3
Edna, Longley, Poetry in the Wars (Newcastle: Bloodaxe, 1986), 94Google Scholar
Michael, Longley, Editorial, Icarus 34 (June 1961), 1
Dennis, O'Driscoll, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney (London: Faber, 2008), 76Google Scholar
Declan, Kiberd's ‘Contemporary Irish Poetry’, in Deane, Seamus (ed.), The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 3 (Derry: Field Day, 1991), 1364Google Scholar
Fran, Brearton, Reading Michael Longley (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2006)Google Scholar
‘Longley's Metric’, The Poetry of Michael Longley, ed. Peacock, Alan J. and Devine, Kathleen (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 2000), 21–4.

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats