News: 2 January 2019

Professor Michael O’Neill
Revered Romantic scholar and poet dies aged 65

Professor Michael O'Neill
'Scalinata Della Trinità Dei Monti' by Michael O'Neill. First printed in the Keats-Shelley Review. Re-printed in Gangs of Shadow (ARC Publications).
'Scalinata Della Trinità Dei Monti' by Michael O'Neill. First printed in the Keats-Shelley Review. Re-printed in Gangs of Shadow (ARC Publications).

Everyone at Keats-Shelley House and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association was deeply saddened to hear that Professor Michael O'Neill had died shortly before Christmas. He was at his home in Durham, surrounded by family. Michael, who was a long-standing member of the Keats-Shelley Review's Editorial Board, had been working on the proofs for his last book Shelleyan Reimaginings and Influence (due to be published in March 2019), and his final poetry collection, Crash and Burn, out in February.

A revered scholar and respected poet, Michael O'Neill was born in Hampshire in 1953. Educated at Oxford University, he began his career as a lecturer in 1979 at the English Department at Durham University where he worked ever since. While his academic interests roamed far and wide (he wrote a book on Auden, MacNeice and Spender), his specialism was Romantic poetry in general, and PB Shelley in particular. His first publication, The Human Mind's Imaginings: Conflict and Achievement in Shelley's Poetry (1989), was accompanied in the same year by Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Literary Life (MacMillan). These were followed by Romanticism and the Self-Conscious Poem (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), The All-Sustaining Air: Romantic Legacies and Renewals in British, American, and Irish Poetry since 1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) and Dante Rediscovered: From Blake to Rodin, with S. Hebron and D. Bindman (Grasmere: The Wordsworth Trust, 2007)

Michael wrote his own poetry alongside his critical work and many editions of essays and Romantic writing. His first collection was 1990's The Stripped Bed. Two further books followed: 2008's Wheel (ARC Publications) and 2014's Gangs of Shadow (ARC Publications), which he read from at a Cheltenham Literary Festival event sponsored by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association.

One of the highlights of Michael's reading was 'Scalinata Della Trinità Dei Monti', Michael's deeply moving poem about Keats' final days in Rome beside the Spanish Steps. These lines feel especially poignant in the days following Michael's own death:

In the small hours, I wake up,
something speaking of you from my sleep:

the weakened body drowsing through a dream,
the fountain’s tilting spray, unthroated voices,

a brief adieu, an awkward bow, a flock
of migrant birds, police cars in the square,

the full-grown generations still to come
outlived already by your words, your work.'

From 'Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti'

You can watch Michael's keynote speech on 'Shelley's Prose' at 2017's Shelley Conference. Thanks to Graham Henderson for the excellent and valuable footage:

James Kidd

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