Luca Fumagalli

The Irish Aubrey de Vere (1814-1902) was a poet who managed to establish himself by the quality of his works which were admired by Oscar Wilde, among others.

De Vere was the last descendant of a noble Protestant family of English origin. At Oxford J. H. Newman made a strong impression on him, but he converted to Catholicism only many years later, in 1851.

In previous years, when famine was claiming victims across Ireland, de Vere had distinguished himself as a skilled polemicist, writing a book, English Misrule and Irish Misdeeds (1848), in which the British government was unceremoniously mocked. His love for Ireland also inspired some of his best poems, filled with references to Wordsworth and Coleridge, including “Róisín Dubh”. The title, taken from a 16th century song, refers to a sad female figure, a metaphor for the sufferings of the Irish. In general, in de Vere’s poems there are many biblical references as well as allusions to Mary, the mother of God.

Although de Vere’s religious compositions never attain the quality of the secular ones, his Marian poems – “Mater Salvatoris”, “Sancta Maria” and “Mater Christi” – are loving products of a sincere Faith, only partially ruined by a tone generally too emphatic and by an inordinate use of exclamations. W. B. Yeats with undisguised sarcasm wrote that in order to fully enjoy de Vere’s lyrics, the reader needs a Dominican habit, a cloister and a breviary.

Source: R. GRIFFITHS, The Pen and the Cross, Continuum, London, 2010.