Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Brian Coffey

Brian Coffey (1905-1995) was an Irish poet whose work was informed by his Catholicism and his background in science, philosophy, and surrealism.Two of his long poems published in later years, Advent (1975) and Death of Hektor (1979), are widely considered to be among the most important works in the canon of Irish poetic modernism.

Early Life and Poetry

Coffey was born in Dublin. His father served as first president of University College, Dublin (UCD). Coffey studied European and Catholic culture and earned advanced degrees in mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

While still at college, Coffey began writing poetry. He published his first poems in UCD's The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre. These poems showed the influence of French symbolism and of T. S. Eliot. During this time, Coffey met Denis Devlin, and together they published a volume entitled Poems in 1930.


In the early 1930s, Coffey moved to Paris where he studied with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain. He also became friendly with other Irish writers based in the city, including Thomas MacGreevy and Samuel Beckett.

In 1938, Coffey's second volume of poetry, Third Person, appeared. This volume saw him shake off his earlier influences, but, for a variety of reasons, it was to be his last publication for a long time.

St Louis

During the war, Coffey worked in London, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returned to Paris and completed his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. The family then moved so that Coffey could take up a teaching post at Saint Louis University. Here, Coffey began his best known work, Missouri Sequence.

Later Life and Poetry

In 1952, Coffey returned to live in London and later Southampton. He began again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. He also set up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press. His work was championed by a number of younger Irish poets, especially Michael Smith (poet) and Trevor Joyce. These two published Coffey's Selected Poems, and this book was instrumental in helping establish his reputation as a leading exponent of Modernist poetry.

External links