Download pdf

Table of Contents


Contact Information

‘I arise and go with William Butler Yeats…’
Cultural Dovetailing in Lorna Goodison’s Country Sligoville

By Lamia Tewfik [1]



Lorna Goodison (b. 1947)
(57 Productions)


This paper presents a reading of Lorna Goodison’s poem ‘Country Sligoville’, published in 1999. The value of this poem rests in the condensed articulation and juxtaposition of a myriad of cultural allusions, imagery and references that belong to Irish and Jamaican contexts. It is argued here that this articulation stems both from a the poet’s personal affiliation for the works of W. B. Yeats, as well as an active presence of the two cultures in Jamaica. The powerful embracing of the multiple elements with which the region's cultural history is invested moves away from the extremes of ‘revenge’ and ‘remorse’ warned against by Derek Walcott. Moreover, the eloquent voice which the narrative persona in the poem is endowed with creates a balance between the diverse Irish and Jamaican elements. The ability to embrace such diversity in a creative way without privileging one side over the other allows to poet to break away from traditional hierarchical perceptions in favour of a serenity emanating from reconciliation.

The works of contemporary Caribbean women writers display their remarkable abilities of putting in play the myriad of diverse cultural elements embedded in the cultural history and contexts of the region. The rich heterogeneous cultural toolkit they use makes their texts an ideal site for tracking/locating the interactions between such diverse elements. Lorna Goodison’s poem ‘Country Sligoville’, published in the anthology Turn Thanks (1999), presents a condensed instance of such interaction as Caribbean traditions and icons are placed side-by-side with Irish ones through evoking the figure of William Butler Yeats. 

Speaking of this poem, Goodison talks of her Irish grandfather: 

… I had an Irish great grandfather. There is a great deal of Celtic influence in Jamaica and the Caribbean. ‘Country Sligoville’ is a pun on ‘County Sligo’ in Ireland, because Jamaicans refer to rural Jamaica as ‘country’, and there is a place called ‘Sligoville’ in Jamaica. Maybe my work is informed by many of the things which also informed Yeats' work. I am deeply committed to a place-Jamaica, its people and all aspects of its culture, and things temporal and spiritual play important roles in the life of Jamaicans. […] perhaps all I was attempting to say is that these two cultures have things in common (Email Interview 2004: 2).

Indeed the cultural similarities between the two ‘Sligos’ has prompted a recent call for a ‘twinning’ of the two. In a ‘twin town’ initiative Sligo’s namesake in Jamaica has been making an effort to organise official visits and cultural exchange with Yeats’ county (‘Twinning Suitors 2007: 1). Incidentally, in 1996 a plaque was laid by Jeremy Ulick Browne, the 11th Marquess of Sligo, in commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Jamaica - the emancipation having been initiated by his ancestor Peter Browne (1)

Goodison’s ideas on Irish lineage, recounted in more detail in her recent autobiographical work Harvey River (2007), echo a general atmosphere of Irishness that permeates Jamaica. This includes Irish place names such as Irish Town and Dublin Castle in St. Andrew, Irish Pen and Sligoville in St. Catherine, and Athenry and Bangor Ridge in Portland to name but a few; added to this is a proliferation of typically Irish surnames.

The capture of Spanish-held Jamaica by the British took place in 1655. Irish men and women were shipped to Barbados by Oliver Cromwell, followed by his son Henry, through a system of forced labour akin to slavery. From there an Irish workforce was forcibly brought to Jamaica.

The historical similarities between how African and Irish people came to the Caribbean set the scene for the cultural give-and-take performed by Lorna Goodison in her poem. The towering figure of Yeats as a canonical literary icon from the West is adorned with new meaning engendered initially from a personal experience of the poet:

…I began to write poetry in response to my father's death. I was taught a great deal of poetry in school, mostly the romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth. As part of this teaching I was made to memorize poems and I think I learned from early about the 'charm' effect that some poems can have. My father died when I was fifteen years old. I had no idea how to cope with such a devastating loss, so I turned to poetry. I read widely in the year following my father's death, from John Donne, George Herbert and Rupert Brooke to Edna St. Vincent Millay and all the poets in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, edited by W.B. Yeats. I believe that reading those poems helped me to deal with my father's death. I believe that good poems all have some 'medicine' in them, and I hope that my poems do (Email Interview 2004: 1).

1 - 2 - 3


Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 11 November 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Tewfik, Lamia, ‘"I arise and go with William Butler Yeats…": Cultural Dovetailing in Lorna Goodison’s "Country Sligoville"' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:3 (November 2007), pp. 225-230. Available online (, accessed .


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information