’THE SHALLOW LOOPS THE BLACKBIRDS MAKE’: MARY DEVENPORT O’NEILL’S VOICES OF ALTERITY
Abstract: Mary Devenport O’Neill’s (1879-1967) short lyric nature poems often resist figuration to display reciprocity with animals and the natural world. In many of her poems, she aligns herself with animals and nature in order to affirm her own agency, recognising her own individual, female narrative as complicit with the alterity of the natural world. Rather than resisting the position of the literal within nature, in a similar way to a masculinist mentality of transcendence, Devenport turns towards it, literally narrating a world in which the “thou” of animals and nature do not act as subordinate to humans. Ecofeminist analysis of gender binaries in language includes critique of figurative language on the basis that a “chain of signifiers” which are embedded within symbolic and figurative language are liable to “dominate, distort and deaden what is signified – the absent referent” which is also identified by Josephine Donovan as the “thou” (1998, p.75). Ecofeminist “critique of the ontology of domination” proposed by Josephine Donovan, which is based on Margaret Homan’s feminist linguistic theory, reveals the ways in which Devenport‘s poetry modified nature tropes in order to literally express the natural world in a pro-ecofeminist modification of Irish literary narratives (74).