Something is moving inside me again. The words of poetic form, the images of the everyday sanctified. It’s the end of September and the season is changing, summer’s work is almost done and autumn’s new feet need to be picked up. I’ve been thinking about life, nature and farming for these many long weeks, not just because I’ve experienced them, but also because of the artist Patrick Kavanagh who was present in my mind.
I was thinking of this great poet because tonight I’m giving a talk about him, so I took a journey back through life and childhood until poetry first entered my being. In a way, Kavanagh seems to have always been there, to guide, to enlighten, to inspire. He was a farmer’s son so we have that in common but as I read more about him this month I saw so many connections.
I think as writers and poets in Ireland we all owe that bard a line or two. He shaped part of the literature of the second half of the 20th century on this island. His work is widely celebrated, as it should be. Indeed with the forthcoming release of the double album Almost everythingfrom Claddagh Records, we can hear his poetry read by some of our biggest stars including Bono and Liam Neeson.
It seems that it is the season of Kavanagh again, that all will be enlightened again, that the poet will always be forever.
Looking back on my introduction to the poet, I was a teenager when words came into my life. I hadn’t read many books before. Words were for other people, but in our English class in North Longford we came into contact with a writer who represented a world we could understand. On the side there was farming and love, earth and sometimes hardship, and snippets of unrequited love for every teenager.
The poems hit deep and when our English teacher explained the true meaning, we took it as a sport to recognize the images and metaphors. There in that classroom we learned the text from Inniskeen Streetwhere Raglan Road was made clear where “through too wide a crack” got in “no wonder”.
Kavanagh’s poetry was, as Seamus Heaney rightly said, “something new, authentic and liberating”. Heaney – who celebrated the poet’s influence on him – went on to say that Kavanagh forged less a conscience than an awareness for the vast majority of his countrymen. As Heaney put it, “[Kavanagh] crosses the piety of a rural Catholic sensibility with the ‘non serviam’ of his original personality and elevates the inhibited energies of a subculture to the power of a cultural resource.” Titanic words from a Titanic poet, but doesn’t Kavanagh deserve that praise? He shaped a world for us, shaped how we talk about the urban and the rural.
As I prepared for my talk, I spoke to an old school friend about what he remembered of Kavanagh. He could still quote me lines. We were 16 when the poet’s words entered our lives. It now seems that they will never leave. Kavanagh is a personal poet to many people. His words come at different times to calm us, to bathe us. He is well respected in Ireland, as the statues and albums and collections of poetry rightly show, but it was not so in his lifetime.
Anthony Cronin described his simple accommodation and black tea offerings. Una Agnew, a writer on the poet’s spiritual connections, spoke of his unlaced shoes on a Dublin street. Financial success seemed to have failed him during his lifetime, but he continued to write and plowed the literary furrows.
It was, I suppose, a ministry of the Word. For me, looking back on those last days was a journey into childhood and the magic that words can weave. As Kavanagh himself said, he dabbled in verse, and it became his life.
Great art has the ability to enable us to understand the world through verse or chapter. We encounter a situation such as a death or a celebration, and we see that the poets of the everyday have gone through these lines before and made them meaningful to us.
I can feel that in Kavanagh. As I looked at the stocks at the farm this week, I thought of all his country writings about the green fool and Tarry Flynn. Kavanagh has truly given us a work that will stand the test of time.
My old schoolmate told me how I remembered the words in the mines of Western Australia. There was something powerful, knowing that a poet’s words could go so deep, cut into a cut earth, and still reverberate.
Kavanagh, it seems, still rules over us all. His words, still taught in our schools, have given him a precious place in the hearts of our youth.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/why-patrick-kavanaghs-poetry-still-holds-sway-over-us-all-42027818.html Why the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh still rules us all