Patrick Kavanagh: Commentary


Kavanagh on Kavanagh: ‘There are some queer and terrible things in The Great Hunger, but it lacks the nobility and repose of poetry.’ (“Self-Portrait”, in Collected Pruse, 1967, p.21.)

Robert Greacen: ‘At any time of night or day / Half Ballsbridge could hear him say: / “Auden puts them all to flight / The others are a load of shite”.’ (“Kavanagh in Ballsbridge”, quoted in Hugh McFadden, review of Selected and New Poems, 2006, in Books Ireland, Feb. 3007, p.16.)
 
John McGahern: ‘He had an individual vision, a vigorous gift of catching the rhythms of ordinary speech, and he was able to bring the images that move us into light, without patronage and on an equal footing with any great work.' (Quoted in Denis Sampson, Young John McGahern: Becoming a Novelist, Oxford UP 2012, p.49 - available at Google Books online.)
 
For several shorter views of Patrick Kavanagh’s works, see attached.

Frank O’Connor
John Montague
Desmond Clarke
Brendan Kennelly
Terence Brown
Seamus Deane
Seamus Heaney
Paul Durcan
Edna Longley
Brian Inglis
Richard Fallis
J. W. Foster
John Nemo
Timothy O’Keeffe
Eavan Boland
Francis Stuart
Alisson Muri
Antoinette Quinn
Alan Peacock
Seán Ó Tuama
Kevin Whelan
Patrick Crotty
Richard Kearney
Anthony Cronin
Gerry Smyth
Sr. Una Agnew
Seán MacReamoinn
Kevin Kiely
David Krause
Mary Robinson
Richard Murphy
Frank Shovlin
John MacDonagh
JMcCarrick
Just so ....?
Where Kavanagh comes into his own as a unique poet is in the flashes of transcendental pantheism that illuminate a number of sonnets and in that stark dirge of small-farm misery, The Great Hunger. [...] Cast a cool eye and so much of Kavanagh, even of the earlier, slimmer Collected Poems, is simply doggerel. Kavanagh was a talented, sloppy poet who only half-earned his trade. He needs to be seem a little plainer if we are to evaluate his offspring.
—see Rory Brennan, infra.

Seamus Heaney writes ...
  On an old recording Patrick Kavanagh states
That there’s health and worth in any talk about
The properties of land. Sandy, glarry,
Mossy, heavy, cold, the actual soil
Almost doesn’t matter; the main thing is
An inner restitution, a purchase come by
By pacing it in words that make you feel
You’ve found your feet in what “surefooted” means
And in the ground of your own understanding -
Like Heracles stepping in and standing under
Atlas’s sky-lintel, as earthed and heady
As I am when I talk about the loose box.
—From “The Loose Box” [II], in Electric Light (2001).

Note: For a Youtube version of the film of the first Bloomsday trip captured on movie camera, see under John Ryan - infra.

... or go online at -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0gNNWHmj9Q

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Frank O’Connor, ‘The Future of Irish Literature’ ( Horizon, Jan. 1942) [on The Green Fool]: ‘It is O’Faolain’s second novel; my own second novel [Dutch Interior]; it is Gerald O’Donovan’s Father Ralph; it is A Portrait of the Artist; it is the novel every Irish writer who isn’t a rogue or an imbecile is doomed to write when the emptiness and horror of Irish life begins to dawn on him. It [...] forces one to recognize how false is the superficial comparison with Russia of the last century. Tchekhov, the son of a slave, could write as easily of a princess as of a peasant girl or a merchant’s daughter. In Ireland, the moment a writer raises his eyes from the slums and cabins, he finds nothing but a vicious and ignorant middle-class, and for aristocracy the remnants of an English garrison, alien in religion and education. From such material he finds it almost impossible to create a picture of life which, to quote Dumas’s definition of the theatre, will embody ‘a portrait, a judgment and an ideal’. (Rep. in David Pierce, ed., Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader, Cork UP 2000, pp.500-03; p.502.)

John Montague, A Tribute to Patrick Kavanagh, in The Irish Times, 2 Dec. 1967 [obit. notice]): ‘[...] With The Great Hunger (1942) the reality of rural life appeared for the first time in Anglo-Irish poetry. The ripples from that extraordinary work are still spreading, for, as well as being a masterwork, it changed the whole course of Irish poetry. Henceforth, whatever their background, education, and obsession, poets would have to measure themselves against Kavanagh’s breathtaking honesty of vision. / In later years, he tended to disparage “The Great Hunger”, but I remember an amiable discussion in the late 50s in which, after analysing the merits of a horse called, appropriately enough, Paddy’s Point, we mutually agreed that, if “The Deserted Village” had more art, it had less passion than “The Great Hunger”. It was this kind of comically serious conversation which drew many people to Patrick Kavanagh, to warm themselves at the fire of a comic spirit which could find fuel in every detail. / There is no doubt about the art in the poems of A Soul for Sale (1947), which celebrate details of his country experience. Many years later, in the sonnets written after his operation for cancer, he recovered that energetic simplicity: ’A year ago I fell in love / with the functional ward / Of a chest hospital ...’. But in order to get there, he had to pass through the valley of satirical disillusion represented in the middle section of the Collected Poems. [...’; &c.] (Rep. in “From the Archive”, The Irish Times, 21 March 2014; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, as attached.)

John Montague, ‘Monaghan Man’, review of Antoinette Quinn, Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography, in The Irish Times (17 Nov. 2001), [Weekend]: Kavanagh’s father was the illegitimate son of Patrick Kevaney, a disgraced schoolmaster who lived openly with the poet’s grandmother who had already had a child by ‘the Tramp McHugh’; grew up in three-room cabin, his father being a stone-breaker, farm labourer and cobbler. Kavanagh was beaten at home and school by a Miss Cassidy, who walked with a bunch of canes under her arm. He wrote in a school essay, ‘the lover of nature […] can see beauty in everything. He can see the finger of God even in a nettle.’ Played for Iniskeen’s Senior team, The Rovers; began to “dabble” in verse; first published in the Dundalk Democrat (‘Address to an Old Wooden Gate”); subsequently printed 15 times in runner-ups. Kavanagh discovered AE’s Irish Stateman on a trip to Dundalk on farm business after which it became his ‘Home University’. He made trip to visit Russell and was loaded down by him with books including Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, which became a talismanic possession. “AE” wrote to Yeats extolling ‘a new young genius ... a small farmer in Monaghan, whose verses have a wild and original fire in them’ but also that ‘it would be years before he is able to make his wild intuitions into art’. After the Irish Statesman folded in the wake of a libel action Kavanagh published in Dublin Magazine. Montague writes: ‘When he tried to make a bit of money with his autobiography, The Green Fool, it was shot down by Gogarty in another libel action. Indeed, libel actions would haunt his life; his illness was aggravated by the action he himself took against The Leader years later, an act of folly akin to Oscar Wilde.’

Further: ‘It did not help that Kavanagh tended to bite the hand that helped.’ He blasted Frank O’Connor in the “Coloured Balloons” article. On Kavanagh’s love-life, Montague writes: ‘in practice Kavanagh was as much a Muse Poet as Robert Graves.’ Montague was the anonymous editor of Kavanagh’s Poems in 1964.

Desmond Clarke, in Stephen J. Brown & Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. II] (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985). Here Clarke registers annoyance at Kavanagh’s treatment of Irish life in Tarry Flynn: ‘As in The Green Fool, the vulgarities and fear-driven religiousness of the people are emphasised. There is almost continuous allusion to sexual matters in the uninhibited manner of Tarry and his friend Eusebius’. Clark quotes from the novel: ‘Ninety per cent of their conversation was about girls’; ‘beneath [Tarry’s] poetic appearance was primitive savagery and lust.’ [Of his mother:] ‘Like a true mother she’d cut the Pope’s throat for the sake of her son.’ (Clarke, op. cit., p.131.)

Brendan Kennelly, ‘Patrick Kavanagh’, in Ariel (July 1970); rep. in Seán Lucy, ed., Irish Poetry in English [The Thomas Davis Lectures on Anglo-Irish Poetry] (Cork & Dublin: Mercier Press 1973), pp.159-84 [Chap. XI]: ‘There are certain poets of whom it can be said that they have a unique personal vision - Blake and Yeats for example and one knows immediately what is meant. They have a new, inimitable, disturbing way of looking at life and, at their best, they communicate this vision successfully. In twentieth-century Ireland, one poet (apart from Yeats) possesses such a vision - Patrick Kavanagh - who, for some unaccountable reason, is one of the most misunderstood and undervalued poets of our time. It is with Blake and Yeats that Kavanagh must be compared, for he is a visionary poet and towards the end of his life he claimed that he had achieved a truly comic vision: “There is only one muse, the Comic Muse. In Tragedy there is always something of a lie. Great poetry is always comic in the profound sense. Comedy is abundance of life. All true poets are gay, fantastically humorous.” / Comedy then, meant for Kavanagh something very definite and profound, but sometimes what is perfectly clear to a poet is confused to a critic because the poet lives poetry and his discoveries are inevitable and organic. They are one with the beat of his blood. It is the purpose of this essay to clarify what Kavanagh meant by the comic vision; to show how comedy appears in his poetry; and in so doing to trace his development. / Fewer modern poets have undergone such a deep, dynamic development as Kavanagh. […] His was one of the most moving, coherent, and profound visions in modern poetry’. (pp.159-60.)

Brendan Kennelly, ‘Patrick Kavanagh’ (1970; rep. 1972) - cont.: ‘Patrick Kavanagh [160] never suffered from abortive ideas of sophistication. Like all the true visionaries, his aesthetic, scattered carelessly in fragments here and there, is distinguished by its sanity and sheer good sense. It is also blissfully free of all pretentiousness and obscurity. The clarity of all his statements on poetry is a mark of his confidence and clearsightedness.’ (pp.160-61.) ‘In the introduction to his Collected Poems, Kavanagh tells us that, for him, poetry is “a mystical thing, and a dangerous thing”. It is mystical because it is concerned with man’s dialogue with God, the foundation-stone of all Kavanagh’s work, the source of his humour and sanity. (p.161.) Kennelly quotes Kavanagh’s phrase “the gay, imaginative God” and refers to ‘his later philosophy of “not-caring”.’ (p.162.) [Cont.]

Brendan Kennelly, ‘Patrick Kavanagh’ (1970; rep. 1972) - cont.: ‘Kavanagh said once that a poet’s journey is the way “from simplicity back to simplicity”. The simplicity of Kavanagh’s “Shancoduff” is the simplicity of Blake’s “London”, the simplicity that stems from a totally coherent and lucid vision. In an essay called “Pietism and Poetry”, Kavanagh says that ‘The odd thing about the best modern poets is their utter simplicity’. I would further add that only the man who sees completely can be completely simple. Kavanagh knew this in [163] his heart, and it can be said of him that he is the only great modern poet who never wrote an obscure poem. He recognized that, in most cases, obscurity is simply a failure of the poet’s imagination, the sanctuary of the inadequate. (In a couple of cases, such as Wallace Stevens and some of Yeats, it is a measure of the depth of their enquiry.)’ / This simplicity, present from the beginning in Kavanagh’s work, is characteristic of his achieved comic vision. He saw that his simplicity was a gift from the gay, imaginative God; that it was the most difficult thing in the world to achieve; and that if sophistication has any meaning at all (and no word in the English language is more abused or misunderstood) it means that the poet has the courage to be utterly himself, his best self, and that nothing else will do.’ (pp.163-64.) [Cont.]

Brendan Kennelly, ‘Patrick Kavanagh’ (1970; rep. 1972) - cont.: ‘Passionate belief is certainly the source of whatever achievement lies in the future; it is also the reason why poets are sometimes compelled to distort their accomplishments in the past. Because of his beliefs, Kavanagh was guilty of this distortion in his evaluation of The Great Hunger. He somehow failed to see that this splendid though rather uneven work was a vital stage in his journey toward the comic vision. [.] The Great Hunger is a necessary realistic outburst from an essentially transcendental imagination; (p.165.) ‘It becomes increasingly clear that Kavanagh is not really at home in satire. In a magnificent poem called “Prelude” he shows his competence as a satirist and then proceeds to declare his sense of its inadequacy: “. satire is unfruitful prayer [,. &c.]”, (p.174.) ‘In “The Hospital” Kavanagh tells us with all the insight of the poet-saint.’ (p.178.)

See full text version [Lucy, op. cit., 1973] in RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics” [as attached]; and note - an abstract of the quotations incorporated by Kennelly is also available [as attached.]

Brendan Kennelly, ed., Penguin Book of Irish Verse (London: 1981), incls. a note: ‘The far-reaching consequences of Kavanagh’s confrontation of the full spiritual range of Irish life, from grovelling squalor to unconscious magnanimity, have yet to be realised.’ (pp.41-42; quoted in Edna Longley, The Living Stream, 1994, p.213.)

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Terence Brown, Northern Voices (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975): ‘[Kavanagh’s ability] to transcend the provincial-urban waste of spirit to write a number of city-inspired poems which establish his own parish of the imagination.’ (p.219.) Brown comments on ‘the achieved self-confidence of a poet who is finally at ease with his material,’ and further remarks ‘that this material is the self in the ordinary Irish world represents Kavanagh’s surest achievement. In moments of such charged lyric assurance he exhibits the possibility of an Irish art, that grounded in ordinary Irish reality excites “the moment with hope.” Irish life transcends for an exemplary moment the problem of adequacy.’ (1980 Edn., p.177.)

Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-1979 (London 1981): ”[I]f there is a case for viewing a major work of art as an antenna that sensitively detects the shifts of consciousness that determines a people”s future, The Great Hunger is that work.” (p.187.)

Terence Brown, ‘Conclusion: With Kavanagh in Mind’, in Two Decades of Irish Writing (Cheadle: Carcanet 1975), pp.214-21,. quotes: ‘My misfortune as a writer was that atrocious formula which was invented by Synge and his followers to produce an Irish literature.’ (Note to the Poetry Book Society Bulletin, June 1960; quoted by Alan Warner, Clay is the Word, 1973, p.28; Brown, op. cit., p.218.) Quotes Kavanagh: ‘[The] so-called Irish Literary Movement which purported to be so frightfully Irish and racy of the Celtic soil was a thorough-going English-bred lie.’ (Self-Portrait, 1964, p.9; Brown, idem.) Quotes further: ‘The important thing about this idea of literature was how Irish was it. No matter what sort of trash it was, if it had the Irish quality. And that Irish quality simply consisted in giving the English a certain picture of Ireland. The English love “Irishmen” and are always on the look-out for them.’ (Warner, Clay is the Word, 1973, p.28; Brown, op. cit., p.219.) Also: ‘[W]e leave the poem [Lough Derg] remembering its realism, not is emotional or spiritual conclusions - a cinematic, documentary treatment of pilgrims representing various Irish social groups, and a bleak re-creation of a harsh place of rock, stone, water and cold air are its primary effects.’ (Ibid., rep. in Ireland’s Literature: Selected Essays, Lilliput Press 1988, pp.109-10.)

Seamus Deane: ‘[H]e is at odds with the spiritual heroics of the foundation period of the State and is perfectly in accord with the general desire to climb down from the dizzy heights of mythology, the glories of battle, elaborate readings of tradition and labyrinthine pursuits of Irishness and to concentrate instead on the stony grey soil of his native Monaghan and the actualities of living in the here and now.’ (A Short History of Irish Literature, 1986, p.232-35, p.233); Further, of Kavanagh’s idea of poetry: ‘It represented the power of poetry to make one actually see the world that had, until its arrival, only been looked at. The best poems are, therefore, revelatory of the ordinary.’ (Ibid ., p.234.) See also references to Patrick Kavanagh in Celtic Revivals (1988), viz., pp.146-47, &c.

Seamus Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature (London: Hutchinson 1986): ”[Kavanagh was] at odds with the spiritual heroics of the foundation period of the State and [...] perfectly in accord with the general desire to climb down from the dizzy height of mythology, the glories of battle, elaborate readings of tradition and labyrinthine pursuits of Irishness [of the Revival] and to concentrate instead on the stony grey soil of his native Monaghan and the actualities of living the here and now’ (p.233.)

Seamus Heaney, ‘The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh: From Monaghan to the Grand Canal’, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Faber 1980), pp.131-49: ‘[…] There is what I would call an artesian quality about his best work because for the first time since Brian Merriman’s poetry in Irish at the end of the eighteenth century and William Carleton’s novels in the nineteenth, a hard buried life that subsisted beyond the feel of middle-class novelists and romantic nationalist poets, a life denuded of “folk” and picturesque elements, found its expression. And in expressing that life in The Great Hunger and in Tarry Flynn Kavanagh forged not so much a conscience as a consciousness for the great majority of his countrymen, crossing the pieties of a rural Catholic sensibility with the non serviam of his original personality, raising the inhibited energies of a subculture to the power of a cultural resource.’ (Preoccupations, p.116; in Douglas Dunn, ed., Two Decades of Irish Writing, Carcanet 1975, pp.105-06.)

Seamus Heaney, ‘The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh: From Monaghan to the Grand Canal’, in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Faber 1980), - cont. ‘There is, we may say, more technique than craft in his work, real technique, which is, in his own words, “a spiritual quality, a condition of mind, or an ability to invoke a particular condition of mind [...] a method of getting at life”, but his technique has to be continuously renewed, as if previous achievements and failures added up to nothing in the way of self-knowledge or self-criticism of his own capacities in the matter. There is very little Parnassian in Kavanagh, very little sense of his deploying for a second time [116] round technical discoveries originally made while delivering a poem of the first intensity out of its labour.’ (pp.116-17; Dunn, 1975, p.106.)

Seamus Heaney (‘The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh [… &c.]’, in Preoccupations, 1980) - cont.: Heaney considers “Shancoduff”, “A Christmas Childhood”, “Spraying the Potatoes” and “Verses from Tarry Flynn”] ‘the most outstanding. [...] Their kingmaking explorations make possible the regal authority of the later “Epic” which is their magnificent coda and represents Kavanagh’s comprehension of his early achievement.’ (p.120; Dunn, p.109.) ‘Kavanagh’s proper idiom is free from the intonations of the Revival poets. His imagination has not been tutored to “sweeten Ireland’s wrong”, his ear has not been programmed to retrieve in English the lost music of verse in Irish.’ (p.115.) […] ‘Much of his authority and oddity derive from the fact that he wrested his idiom bare-handed out of a literary nowhere. At its most expressive, his voice has the air of bursting a long battened-down silence.’ (p.116.) […] ‘Tarry Flynn (1948) is his delightful realization of the call to leave, the pivot and centre of Kavanagh’s work, an autobiographical fiction full of affection for and impatience with his parish. This book brings to fruition the valediction to “every blooming thing” promised in “Inniskeen Road” and in it Kavanagh achieves his first and fullest articulation of his comic vision, that view from Parnassus which was the one sustaining myth or doctrine he forged completely for himself.’ (p.121.) [Cont.]

Cf. Heaney’s latter remark on the epithet “blooming” in a review of the Collected Poems, in The Guardian (1 Jan. 2005): ‘But from his earliest success in the sonnet “Inniskeen Road, July Evening”, with its luminous, laddish notice of “every blooming thing”, on through work of the 50s such as “Innocence” and “On Reading a Book of Common Wild Flowers”, right down to the spontaneous opulence of the Canal Bank sonnets, the poems are where he finds and keeps a marvellous balance between his resolute down-to-earthness and his equally undeniable impulse to transcendence. ’

Seamus Heaney (‘The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh’, in Preoccupations, 1980) - cont. [on The Great Hunger]: ‘The Great Hunger first published in 1942 and collected in A Soul for Sale, is Kavanagh’s rage against the dying of the light, a kind of elegy in a country farmyard, informed not by an heraldic notions of seasonal decline and mortal dust but by an intimacy with actual clay and a desperate sense that life in the secluded spot is no book of pastoral hours but an enervating round of labour and lethargy. The poem comes across initially with great documentary force, so that one might be inclined to agree with Kavanagh”s characterization of it as being “concerned with the woes of the poor” as the whole story, but that is only part of the truth, though admittedly a large part of it. / Nevertheless, the art of the poem is replete with fulfilments and insights for which the protagonist is famished. […] It is the nearest Kavanagh ever gets to a grand style, one that seeks not a continuous decorum but a mixture of modes, of high and low, to accommodate his double perspective, the [122] tragic and the emerging comic.’ (pp.122-23.) Kavanagh’s technical achievement here is to find an Irish note that is not dependent on backward looks towards the Irish tradition, not an artful retrieval of poetic strategies from another tongue but […] the English language as it is spoken in this country’ (p.123; Dunn, 1975, p.111.) ‘[W]hat gives it its essential impetus is not the literary context but its appetite for the living realities of Patrick Maguire’s world, and the feeling generated by the disparity between Maguire’s and Kavanagh’s response to that world.’ (p.124; Dunn, 1975, p.112.)

Seamus Heaney (‘The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh’, in Preoccupations, 1980) - [on The Great Hunger]: ‘The poem is the obverse of Kavanagh’s bildungsroman, Tarry Flynn. It is not about growing up and away but about growing down and in. Its symbol is the potato rather than the potato blossom, its elements are water and earth rather than fire and air, its theme is consciousness moulded in and to the dark rather than opening to the light. […] The nets that Maguire eludes are those very experiences whose reality Stephen Dedalus goes “to encounter for the millionth time” […] When Stephen disobeys his mother and defies her pious devotion, fearful of the deleterious “chemistry” that such obeisance might set up in his soul, Maguire succombs to “the lie that is a woman’s screen / Around a conscience where soft thighs are spread” [...; 123] His sexual timidity is continuously related to his failure to achieve any fullness of personality [Dunn, 1975, p.112]: when he “makes the field his bride” he settles for “that metaphysical land / Where flesh was thought more spiritual than music” [.../] it is a rebuke to the idea of the peasant as noble savage and a dramatization of what its author called “the usual barbaric life of the Irish country poor.”’ (pp.123-24.) [Cont.]

Seamus Heaney (‘The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh’, in Preoccupations, 1980) - cont.: ‘While the phrase “socially committed” would have been repellent to Kavanagh, it does remind us that he was a child of the thirties, as depressed and more repressed in Ireland than elsewhere. And while he abjured, in his prose of the 1950s and 1960s, any “messianic impulse” he was always as concerned in his own way as Yeats was about “unity of culture” and “unity of being”. His acute sense of the need to discriminate between “parochial” and “provincial” mentalities, his reaction against the romantic nationalist revival of Synge and Yeats as “a thoroughgoing English-bred lie”, his refusal to allow social and religious differences within the country to be glossed over in a souped-up “buckleppin” idiom, his almost Arnoldian concern for touchstones of excellence - Ulysses, Moby Dick - and his search for an art that would be an Olympian “criticism of life”, all this surfaces in his essays from an overall concern for the “quality of life” in the country, especially the literary life.’ [Quotes from “Poetry and Pietism” on Yeats, O’Connor and O’Casey.]’ (p.126.)

Seamus Heaney (‘The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh’, in Preoccupations, 1980) - cont. ‘Still, despite the generous epiphanies represented by the best work of the last decade, Kavanagh’s face inclines to set like Maguire’s in a judicial pose. […] The overall impression to be got from reading the second half of the Collected Poems is of a man who know he can do the real thing but much of the time straining and failing. He should not simply be taken at his own word on the superiority of his comic vision, the supremacy of “not caring” as a philosophy for life. When it serves as a myth for entrancement, for Franciscan acceptance, and approaches the condition of charity, as it does in the Canal Bank sonnets and in meditations like “Intimate Parnassus” or when it is guaranteed by a purgatorial experience on which it is based as in “The Hospital”, “Miss Universe”, “Prelude”, “Auditors In”, “If Ever You Go to Dublin Town” and in a song like “On Raglan Road” or when it is offered as a poetic with the rhythmic heave of “Yellow Vestment” - then Kavanagh is “embodying” rather than “knowing” the truth of it, and the odd sense of a man at once marooned and in possession, impatient and in love, pervades the verse, and the verse itself is supplied with energy from belown and beyond its occasion. / Too often the doctrine that “poetry is a mystical and a dangerous thing’ [sic] was used as a petrified stick to beat the world with. Too much of the satire in Come Dance with Kitty Stobling remains doggerel ensnared in the environment which it purports to disdain.’ (p.128.) ‘Kavanagh’s achievement lies in the valency of a body of individual poems which establish the purity, authority and authenticity of his voice rather than any plotted cumulative force of the opus as a whole. […; Dunn, 1975, p.177] If I feel that the man who suffered was not fully recompensed by the man who created Kavanagh felt it too. [...; 129] And one might say that when he had consumed the roughage of his Monaghan experience, he ate his heart out.’ (pp.129-30.)

Seamus Heaney, “The Sense of Place” [1977], in Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (London: Faber & Faber 1980): ‘[…] His sonnet “Epic” is his confirmation of this about himself and his affirmation of the profound importance of the parochial. Where Yeats had a conscious cultural and, in the largest sense, political purpose in his hallowing of Irish regions, Kavanagh had no such intent. […] He abjured any national purpose, any belief in Ireland as a “spiritual entity”. And yet, ironically, Kavanagh’s work probably touches the majority of Irish people more immediately and more intimately than most things in Yeats. I am not going to say that this makes Kavanagh a more important writer, but what I do say is that Kavanagh’s fidelity to the unpromising, unspectacular countryside of Monaghan and his rendering of the authentic speech of those parts gave the majority of Irish people, for whom the experience of life on the land was perhaps the most formative, an image of themselves that nourished their sense of themselves in that serious way which Synge talked about in his preface. Kavanagh’s grip on our imaginations stems from our having attended the intimate hedge-school he attended. For thirty years he lived the life of a small farmer’s son in the parish of Inniskeen, the life of fairs and football matches, of mass-going and dance-going. He shared his neighbours’ fundamental piety, their flyness, their brusque manners and their vigorous speech. He gambled and rambled among them. He bought and sold land and cattle and corn. Yet all the time, as he stitched himself into [137] the outer patterns of his place, there was a sensitivity and a yearning that distinguished him. For this poet whom we recognize as being the voice of a communal life had a fiercely individual sense of himself. “A poet is never one of the people”, he declared in his Self-Portrait. “He is detached, remote, and the life of small-time dances and talk about football would not be for him. He might take part but he could not belong.” And that statement could stand as a gloss on the first important poem that Kavanagh wrote, a poem which is about his distance from what is closest to him, a poem too where the life of small-time dances which he affects to disdain is lovingly particularised. [ref. to “From Monaghan to the Grand Canal: The Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh”, in Preoccupations, 1980, p.117, quoting: “The bicycles go by in twos and threes ...”]. [Cont.]

Seamus Heaney (“The Sense of Place”, in Preoccupations, 1980) - cont.: I have said that “Iniskeen Road, July Evening” is a love poem … In the first line, “the bicycles go by in twos and threes”. They do not “pass by” or “go past”, as they would in a more standard English voice or place, and in that little touch, Kavanagh touches what I am circling. He is letting the very life blood of the place in that one minute incision. The words “go by” and “blooming”, moreover, are natural and spoken; they are not used as a deliberate mark of folksiness or as a separate language, in the way that Irish speech is ritualised by Synge. … The poet meets his people at eye-level, he hears them shouting through the hedge and not through the chinks in a loft floor, the way Synge heard his literary speech in Co. Wicklow. (p.138.) […] He cherished the ordinary, the actual, the known, the unimportant. [Quotes:] “Parochialism is universal: it deals with the fundamentals. It is not by the so-called national dailies that people who emigrate keep in touch with their roots. In London, outside the Catholic churches, the big run is on the local Irish papers. Lonely on Highgate Hill, outside St. Joseph’s Church, I rushed to buy my Dundalk Democrat, and reading it I was back in my native fields. Now as I analyse myself I realise that throughout everything I write, there is this constantly recurring motif of the need to go back … So it is for these reasons that I return to the local newspapers. Who has died? Who has sold his farm?” (here p.139.)

[Note: Heaney compares Kavanagh and Montague in “The Sense of Place” (1977) [essay], quoting the latter at some length on Knockmany/Cnoc Maine.] (For longer extracts, see RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics”, infra.)

Seamus Heaney, ‘A Tale of Two Islands: Reflections on The Irish Literary Revival’, in P. J. Drudy, ed., Irish Studies, I (Cambridge UP 1980), pp.1-20: ‘[...] "My childhood", he declared, “was the normal barbaric life of the Irish country poor" (Collected Pruse, p.14) and his longest and strongest poem is an anatomy of that life. "The Great Hunger", published in 1942, is a presentation of rural life denuded of all beautiful folk elements. Among other things, it is a powerful rebuke to the Ascendancy myth of the peasantry, full of love for the hard actualities of small farm life in south-west Ulster but also full of anger against its deprivations, sexual, cultural and spiritual. /  Instead of mythologizing the race, Kavanagh anatomized the parish. His sensibility was closer to Carleton’s than to Yeats’s or Synge’s. This was a case of the peasantry not wanting to be sung, but wanting to sing themselves, and finding themselves faced with a version of their own reality that would have to be dismantled. The vehemence of much of Kavanagh’s criticism and the air of exhaustion which finally enters his poetry springs, in large measure, from the sway which the Yeatsian image of the country and country people had gained. It was as if he had been imaginatively checkmated: the roots of his poetic gift were deeply entwined in the earth of rural Irish life with all its peculiar hardness and tenderness, yet he began to feel that to call upon those roots and to conjure with those authentic images was somehow to connive in a spurious myth. Hence the barefaced and abrupt absolutes he comes out with from the late forties onwards. [15; quotes various prose, incl. Kavanagh on the parochial/provincial distinction.] [...] Kavanagh’s “Epic”, the poem which most succinctly defines his theme and his matter, does not deal with the matter of Ireland but the matter of Inniskeen, not with arms and the man in any national sense but with pitchforks and neighbours, with an act of trespass rather than an act of war [ “Epic”.] [...] Kavanagh brought us forward from the myths of the revival, certainly, but in order to begin again he had to return us to the matter of Carleton. / The great and true liberator was, of course, Joyce who, like Tiresias, foresuffered all.’ [17] Also: ‘[I]n the the bare-faced confrontation with Patrick Kavanagh’s [poetry], I encountered further reasons for believing in poetry’s ability -and responsibility - to be “not concerned with Poetry”.’ (p.15.)

Seamus Heaney, ‘The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh’, in The Government of The Tongue (London; Faber & Faber 1988), pp.3-15: ‘In [his] later poetry, place is included within the horizon of Kavanagh’s mind rather than the other way around. The country he visits is inside himself. [5] […] an opposite process […] Pretending to be the world’s servant, Kavanagh is actually involved in the process of world mastery […] [In “Epic” place and men are] made important only by the light of the mind which is now playing on them [6]. [‘in “Canal Bank Walk’] the ‘rhythm heaves up strongly, bespeaking the mind’s allegiancy to the task of making this place - or any place - into an “important place”.’ Further: ‘I was excited to find details of a life which I knew intimately - but which I always considered to be below or beyond books - being presented in a book.’ (The Government of the Tongue, 1988, p.6, 7.) [Cont.]

Seamus Heaney (‘The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh’, in The Government of The Tongue, 1988) - cont.: ‘Kavanagh gave you permission to dwell without cultural anxiety among the usual landmarks of your life. Over the border, into a Northern Ireland dominated by the noticeably English accents of the local BBC, he broadcast a voice that would not be cowed into accents other than its own. Without being in the slightest way political in its intentions, Kavanagh’s poetry did have political effect. Whether he wanted it or not, his achievement was inevitably co-opted, north and south, into the general current of feeling which flowed from and sustained [9] ideas of national identity, cultural otherness from Britain and the dream of a literature with a manner and a matter resistant to the central Englishness of the dominant tradition. No admirers of the Irish Literary Revival, Kavanagh was read initially and almost entirely in light [sic] of the the Revival writers’ ambitions for a national literature.’ (pp.9-10). [Cont.]

Seamus Heaney (‘The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh’, 1988) - cont.: ‘[...] I still assumed Kavanagh to be writing about the tree which was actually in the ground when he had in fact passed on to write about the tree which he held in mind. Even a deceptively direct poem like “In Memory of My Mother” reveals the change; this does indeed contain a catalogue of actual memories of the woman as she was and is bound to a true-life Monaghan by its images of cattle and fairdays, yet all these solidly based phenomena are transformed by a shimmer of inner reality. The poems says two things at once: mother is historically gone, mother is a visionary presence forever. [Quotes: ‘I do not think of you lying in the wet clay ...’] Though this is a relatively simple - and sentimentally threatened - manifestation of the change of focus from outer to inner reality, it does have something of the “weightlessness” which Kavanagh came to seek as an alternative to the weightiness of the poetic substance in, say, The Great Hunger.’ (pp.10-11.)

Seamus Heaney (‘The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh’, 1988) - cont.: ‘Where Kavanagh had once painted Monaghan like a Millet, with a thick and faithful pigment in which men rose form the puddled ground, all wattled in potato-mould, he now paints like a Chagall, afloat above his native domain, airborne in the midst of his own dream place rather than earthbound in a literal field.’ (p.13; quoted in Edna Longley, ‘Poetic Forms and Social Malformations’, in The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.211); Heaney discusses stanzas from “Auditors In” and compares the ‘heavy tarpaulin’ of ‘The Great Hunger’ with ‘the rinsed streamers’ of the poem “Prelude”, in which Kavanagh describes satire as ‘unfruitful prayer’: ‘I have learned to value this poetry of inner freedom very highly. It is an example of self-conquest, a style discovered to express this poet’s unique response to his universal ordinariness, a way of re-establishing the authenticity of personal experience and surviving as a credible being.’ [14] On reading Kavanagh’s “Spraying the Potatoes”: ‘I was excited to find details of a life which I knew intimately, but which I had always considered to be below or beyond books, being presented in a book.’ (‘The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh’, in Terence Brown & Nicholas Grene, eds., Tradition and Influence in Anglo-Irish Poetry, London: Macmillan 1989, p.185; & Do. in Government of the Tongue, p.7]). (See further under Heaney, Quotations, ‘The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh’, infra.) [see further remarks on Kavanagh under Seamus Heaney, Quotations, supra.)

Seamus Heaney, in Tony Canavan, ed., Every Stoney Acre Has a Name: A Celebration of the Townland in Ulster (Federation for Ulster Local Studies 1991): [Foreword by Heaney or quoted by Canavan?]: ‘[The parochial is] empowered within its own horizons, it looks out but does not necessarily look up to the metropolitan centres. Its impulses and possibilities abound within its boundaries but are not limited by them. It is self-sufficient but not self-absorbed, capable of thought, undaunted, pristine, spontaneous, a corrective to the inflations of nationalism, and the cringe of provincialism.’ (p.xi).

Seamus Heaney, ‘Crediting Poetry’ (Nobel Award Address, Stockholm, 1996), on “The Great Hunger”: ‘[A] presentation of rural life denuded of all beautiful folk elements. Among other things, it is a powerful rebuke to the Ascendancy myth of the peasantry, full of love for the hard actualities of small farm life in south-west Ulster but also full of anger against its deprivations, sexual, cultural and spiritual.’ [Q. source; internet.]

Seamus Heaney, ‘In the light of the imagination’, The Irish Times (21 Oct. 2004) [Features]: ‘There were reasons why I wasn’t eager to meet Patrick Kavanagh in person. Meeting him on the page had been a transformative experience. He entered my head the way the potato digger enters the field at the start of his poem The Great Hunger: kicking the dead weight of the familiar into life, putting the lumpiness of things into a spin. There was force and refreshment in equal measure, bag-apron realism and far-horizon vision. You were in the presence of something ferocious and purposeful, and your natural impulse was to cheer but also to stand back.’ [Speaks of his written assertion in Hibernia, July 1963, that there were no major poets in Ireland, and a brief encounter with Kavanagh in The Bailey, Dublin. At the time of Kavanagh’s death.] ‘John Montague encouraged me to join him at the graveside in Inniskeen and read a Kavanagh poem. The man I had met at the counter was under ground, but the poet I had met on the page was more luminously present than ever. The question that he had asked himself at the start of The Great Hunger - “Is there some light of imagination in these dark clods?” - had been answered with a triumphant yes. / Twentieth-century Irish poetry had been amplified in scope and 20th-century Irish consciousness realigned. Kavanagh’s centenary is justly celebrated as a more or less national feast. He was, of course, a novelist and prose writer with an indeflectible gift for discovering the mystical body of the world in the bits and pieces of every day, as well as being a cultural critic whose rebellious commentaries on Irish life and letters continue to be vivid and pertinent five decades after they were written. / But most of all he was a poet of pure spiritual force, to the extent that many of his lyrics now belong in the common mind as if they were prenatal possessions - even, perhaps, prenatal necessities. What’s more, “his impact and relevance” are to be felt “wherever English is spoken”.’ [The Irish Times online; see full text in RICORSO Library > “Critical Classics” - as attached.]

Seamus Heaney, ‘Strangeness and beauty’ [...], review of Collected Poems of Patrick Kavanagh, ed. Antoinette Quinn, in The Guardian (1 Jan 2005): ‘On the one hand, there is the first sentence of Patrick Kavanagh’s “Author’s Note” to the old 1964 Collected Poems: “I have never been much regarded by the English critics,” a sentence he could fairly repeat if he were still alive. On the other, there is Paul Durcan who speaks for the Irish crowd when he declares that he doesn’t “read” Patrick Kavanagh, he “believes” in him. [...] Last year his centenary was celebrated in Ireland as if it were a national feast. [...] Dark or radiant, fierce or fond, his best work added a unique strength and shine to post-Yeatsian Irish poetry. It had a transformative effect on the general culture and liberated the gifts of the poetic generations who came after him. / Kavanagh belongs all over the place, high and low, far and wide. A song like “On Raglan Road” is performed with equal relish by pop stars and traditional balladeers; the early lyrics about life in his native County Monaghan are favourites with students doing their Leaving Certificate examinations and with editors of anthologies; and his later “comic” poems where he endeavours “to play a true note on a slack string” look back to the “come all ye” ballads of his country background, while sounding all the while like an early warning of subversions to come from the school of New York and the beats of San Francisco - and also, of course, from his believer Durcan.’ [Cont.]

Seamus Heaney, ‘Strangeness and beauty’ [...], in The Guardian (1 Jan 2005) - cont.: ‘Kavanagh is a truly representative modern figure in that his subversiveness was turned upon himself: dissatisfaction, both spiritual and artistic, is what inspired his growth. The purity of inspiration in his early Monaghan lyrics is unquestionable and unfading, but when the success of these poems led to his being co-opted into what he might have called “the roots-in-the-soil racket” and being typecast as the peasant poet, Kavanagh rebelled. / First, he wrote his anti-pastoral masterpiece, The Great Hunger, a poem that throws up language as dark-webbed and cold-breathed as the clay the potato-digger kicks up in its opening lines; then he went on to tear into the literary establishment of Dublin in the 1940s, “the dregs of the old Literary Revival”, lambasting the likes of F. R. Higgins and even turning on supporters such as Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain; and then, finally, in the 50s, he returned to lyric poetry and wrote sonnets about the recovery of health and the recovery of inspiration, but this time in urban Dublin rather than rural Monaghan. Suddenly, in the aftermath of an operation for lung cancer, the poet overwhelmed the negative circumstances with an effulgent subjectivity, writing “with over flowing speech”, rediscovering the “unworn world” - unworn in that it had been neglected because of satire, his “unfruitful prayer”, and unworn out because it was still there in all its abundance.’

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Paul Durcan, Introduction to Selected Poems of Patrick Kavanagh (1996): ‘Kavanagh was dismissive of system or plan (“Yeatsian invention”), opting for a relaxed, casual stance, a momentary benediction of things “common and banal”.’ (p.xii.) Further, ‘[Kavanagh adopted persona] of a child or a nostalgic adult exile to convey the magic of ordinary and often conventionally ugly rural material.’ (p.xvi.)

Cf.: ‘[...] the outfits I have to wear / Whenever The Great Hunger is playing in the Peacock. / No, it never occurs to them that in Ireland today / It is not easy to be a landlord and a patron of the arts.’ (Durcan, “What shall I wear, darling, to the Great Hunger”, in Going to Russia, 1987, p.23.)

Edna Longley, ‘Poetic Forms and Social Malformations’, in The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-on-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994), quoting opening lines of The Great Hunger: ‘This combines parodic yet powerful incantation with colloquial ease, and initiates symbolic depth-charges […] This remarkable poem can be read not only as antipastoral but as national counter-epic.’ Further: ‘Kavanagh […] shows his successors how to free their verse by listening to how people speak.’ (pp.204, 219.)

Brian Inglis, Downstart (London: Chatto & Windus 1990): ‘The Great Hunger had established Kavanagh’s reputation. As a farm labourer, a peasant bard, he had been welcomed in the Palace Bar, where for a while he enjoyed being shown off to visitors, and showing off himself as the inspired bog-trotter. Cronin recalls finding him, at their first meeting, “a deeply serious man with an intellect which was humorous and agile, as well as being profoundly and apparently incorruptible”. “Apparently” hits the mark. Kavanagh believed himself to be sea-green; but he longed for appreciation, and indeed adultation, and would readily barter some measure of incorruptibility to obtain it. He was indeed intellectually humorous and agile; but he liked to apply both qualities to bolster his own ego. I recall one small example: a party in connection with a visit to Dublin by Laurence Olivier. Kavanagh had formally applied to interview him on the Tuesday, only to be put off at the last moment to the Thursday, when it would be too late for that week’s column. “Do you know what I told him?” Kavanagh told us, with a mischievous grin: “I never interview people on Thursdays!” / Gradually Kavanagh’s black humour began to turn, in the early 1950s, to paranoia. Eventually he took an action for libel against The Leader [which Inglis was editing], following the publication of a snide but accurate profile of him which it had printed. He was sure it had been written either by Desmond Williams or by Val [Valentin] Iremonger, or perhaps both; with the help, doubtless, of Behan.’ [Cont.]

[See further discussion of the authorship of the Leader article on Kavanagh under Iremonger - supra.]

Brian Inglis (Downstart 1990) - cont.: Cronin, who realises now that the action was a disastrous mistake - I doubt he did at the time - attributes it to Kavanagh’s appetite for martyrdom, but admits Kavanagh dreamed of taking The Leader for heavy damages, which would solve his financial problems. Unluckily for this ambition, he came up against Costello, by this time Leader of the Opposition in the Dail and consequently released to resume his career at the Bar. Kavanagh hoped to appear to the jury as a wronged, impoverished writer; Costello contrived to reveal him as a boozer who preferred other people to pay for his drinks. / The decisive moment came when Costello casually asked Kavanagh whether he was a friend of Behan’s - Behan, by this time, having become notorious for his drinking. Kavanagh let out a diatribe against Behan, not hesitating to give vent to his loathing. The next day, Costello was able to produce a copy of Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn with, inside it, “To my friend Brendan Behan on the day he painted my flat.” The jury found for The Leader: they probably would have, anyway, but the evidence of Kavanagh’s lying, as it must have appeared to them, settled the issue. On a point of law, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial, but neither The Leader nor Kavanagh could afford to continue the case. The Leader, which had been in existence for half a century, had to cease publication; Kavanagh shortly afterwards was diagnosed as suffering from cancer. He lived on in receipt of a small stipend as a lecturer in University College, bul chronic alcoholism soon gripped him.’ (pp.186-87.)

John Wilson Foster, ‘The Geography of Irish Fiction’, in The Irish Novel in Our Time, ed. Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon (Université de Lille 1975-76), pp.90-103: Foster compares Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn with a passage from Arensberg’s The Irish Countryman (1937), concluding: ‘Tarry Flynn is a surgical portrayal of a society by an insider who has since gained the objectivity of an outsider. Tarry himself is a product of this society, of the clay that binds and mesmerises him. Kavanagh’s scalding hatred of, and his submissive love of, the earth provides the novels uneasy balance between rural naturalism and poetic fantasy, an uneasy balance that characterises a great deal of rural Irish fiction.’ (p.94.) ‘For Tarry this is a not untypical case of arrested puberty, a twenty-seven year-old whose only alternatives to perennial boyhood and wishful thinking in a familistic community are instant old age and accession to marrriage and the land, and migration in search of maturity. At the novel’s end, Tarry opts for the latter and follows a well-trodden path out of the parish.’ (p.95.) Note that the comparison with Arensberg is developed further in Antoinette Quinn, Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography (2001) on the basis that Kavanagh probably read it.

John Wilson Foster, ‘Getting the North: Yeats and Northern Nationalism’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture (Dublin: IAP 2009): ‘[...] In this perspective Yeats (the merit of his poetry bracketed off) is a literary unionist but not an authentic cultural nationalist, nor even a literary unionist who unwittingly promoted the cause of authentic nationalism. Patrick Kavanagh (1906-67), the poet from Monaghan, held such a view, though he might have derived it in part from Daniel Corkery (1878-1964), the influential Cork critic. There have been extenuating historical and biographical circumstances for this view, and it must be clear by now that recent Irish criticism of Years has a demonstrable autobiographical dimension. Kavanagh’s smacks at Yeats were uncoordinated, personal and eccentric. Kavanagh brought a sense of grievance and envy from his backwater North and resented Dublin and metropolitan reputations such as Yeats’s (which is perhaps in part why he famously extolled the virtue of parochialism); it was as if his northernness - he came from an obscure border county - was too remote from Dublin for him to accept the narrative of Irish nationalism that had installed Yeats as hero. Kavanagh’s views of Yeats and the Irish Literary Revival were bound up in complicated ways with his own poetry, a poetry at once forceful and lyrical that had a liberating effect on the youthful Seamus Heaney. And they do represent a critical point of view that can be, and has been, expressed in a sophisticated manner by Seamus Deane, who was also keenly aware of Kavanagh.’ (p.182.)

Richard Fallis, The Irish Renaissance: An Introduction to Anglo-Irish Literature (Gill & Macmillan 1978): ‘Beyond technical expertise, the best of the later poems are informed by a genuine comic vision, not always laughing by any means, but always affirming the possibilities of life and the sense that some of its meaning is there for the taking.’ (p.262).

John Nemo, Patrick Kavanagh [Twayne Irish Writers] (London: George Prior 1979): ‘Kavanagh gradually came to believe in himself as a liberating force that could, through exposure and ridicule, open the eyes of his countrymen to the oppressive and stifling provincialism in which they lived.’ (p.26.) ‘In a very real sense, life and literature were so intertwined for [Kavanagh] that he could not speak of one without describing it in terms of the other’ (ibid., p.33).

Timothy O’Keeffe [publisher], reviewing Peter Kavanagh, Sacred Keeper: A Biography of Patrick Kavanagh (Goldsmith 1979), notes that the author has printed a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Kavanagh on their wedding day and excised the face of Mrs Kavanagh.’ He adds that Kavanagh’s biography is essential reading for ‘anyone interestd in poetry and the peculiar horror of various literary scenes, but new readers will be given a less interesting view of him from the biographical writings than the works merit. Ends by commending John Nemo’s Patrick Kavanagh (Twayne [1979]) as a good academic study on a modest scale. (Hibernia, 7 Feb. 1980.)

Eavan Boland: “Memories of Kavanagh”, in The Irish Times (20 Nov. 1981): ‘He was a primitive with many of the faults of the primitive. [... H]e had a passionate belief in poetry as a divine gift [and] he would never accept that it was a worthy craft that other less gifted might also practise.’

Francis Stuart, ‘Earthly Visionary’, in Peter Kavanagh, ed., Patrick Kavanagh: Man and Poet, Maine Univ at Orono 1986): speaks of Kavanagh’s work as ‘[c]lumsy, unworkable grammar, no literary graces, not “about” anything, not illustrating a previously conceived idea, but to those to whom it speaks, new and wonderful! […] Like Blake’s lyrics in his Songs of Innocence, the best of Kavanagh’s poetry cannot be analysed or explained. Kavanagh gives himself spontaneously and directly, without literary artifice between himself and the reader.’ (pp.383-86; orig. in Hibernia, 25 July 1975; quoted in Alan Peacock, ‘Received Religion and Secular Vision: MacNeice and Kavanagh’, Irish Writers and Religion, ed. Robert Welch, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992, pp.148-68.)

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Allison Muri, ‘Paganism and Christianity in Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 16, 2 (December 1990), pp.66-78: ‘[...] Kavanagh’s expression of bitter anger in The Great Hunger reflects this repressive realm that was Catholic Ireland: the peasant’s hunder following the famine is not a [67] physical starvation but a sexual one. Thus Kavanagh spews out his loathing of any concept of life attempting to transcend the physical and temporal realm of nature. / Kavanagh encapsulates Christian scripture within a pagan framework, substituting clay for Jesus Christ as described by the Gospel of John. Christ offered immortality to his followers, both as the word of God (John VI:xix), and as the flesh of God (John VI:53-59). Kavanagh specifically calls attention to this precept in the poem .... In juxtaposing Christ’s image with one of clay, Kavanagh accentuates the parallels between Christian ideology of the soul’s immortality and pagan belief in a cycle of renewal and rebirth associated with the earth goddess or mother goddess. / In this introductory sentence, Kavanagh also protrays the status of Christianity in his own eyes: the comparison with clay conclusively reduces the Church’s magnitude. Kavanagh does not consequently exalt [sic] in the power of the earth, or clay, or immortality associated therfore, through this juxtaposition; instead, he accentuates the drudgery and monotonly and, perhaps, the stupidity of man who depends wholly upon it for subsistence, and who therefore confers upon it undue significance. By affirming the magnitude of mere dirt to the peasant farmer, Kavanagh verifies the pointless bleakness of his existence. (pp.67-68.) Further: ‘James Joyce has said that Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow. In Kavanagh’s terms, the female Ireland is equally malicious and unproductive, but Kanavagh lays the blame at the door of the Roman Catholic Church. [69] / Beginning in the fourth century, Christian art reflected the gradual diminishment in the power of the earth mother, once a focus of veneration, to a mere personification of the earth. The mother goddess eventually came to be associated with seductive qualities, or with materiality (as opposed to spirituality, symbolized by air). In any case, the female image of the once-revered goddess came to represent “one of the worst sins of Christendom, female sensuality.” (Berger, 38). In essence, Kavanagh’s poem revolves around exactly this: Maguire’s fear of female sensuality, and the stifling of his own.’ (p.70)

Rory Brennan, ‘Contemporary Irish Poetry: An Overview’, in Poetry in Contemporary Irish Literature, ed. Michael Kenneally [Lit. Studies 13] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1995): ‘[...] Kavanagh began by composing pietistic lyrics of a kind still to be found in provincial newspapers. He intermittently returned to this form but never managed to suppress a defiant awkwardness as if he cherished the excuse of amateurism. Where Kavanagh comes into his own as a unique poet is in the flashes of transcendental pantheism that illuminate a number of sonnets and in that stark dirge of small farm misery, The Great Hunger. However, Kavanagh continued to milk the dry udder of rural development and only bloomed again briefly in tranquil meditations on Dublin canals and streetscapes. He also turned to satire, attributing “phoniness” to diverse cliques rather in the manner of the later Hemingway. Such charges tend to expose their makers as phonies when all the full has died down. Kavanagh wrote sentimental refrains for popular folk airs; here he is straight in the scorned line of Thomas Moore, though Moore’s versions are far more sensitive. Cast a cool eye and so much of Kavanagh, even of the earlier, slimmer Collected Poems, is simply doggerel. Kavanagh was a talented, sloppy poet who only half-earned his trade. He needs to be seem a little plainer if we are to evaluate his offspring.’ (p.2.) [Available at Google Books - online; accessed 02.02.2012.)

Antoinette Quinn, Patrick Kavanagh: Born-Again Romantic (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1991): ‘It seems scarcely credible that a poet should have discovered and nurtured his talent in so uncongenial an environment. Yet such is the imperative of genius that, despite inadequate schooling, in defiance of parental disencouragement and local disincentive, and in the total absence of role models or fosterers, Patrick Kavanagh, at the age of twelve, “took to poeming”.’ (Ibid., p.1.). Further: ‘[A] man flailing between the country he had left and the literary Dublin he never found.’ (Ibid., p.283; quoted in Gerry Smythe, Decolonisation and Criticism, 1997, p.107).

Antoinette Quinn (Patrick Kavanagh: Born-Again Romantic, 1991) [on “The Great Hunger”:] ‘Kavanagh writes with profound sympathy because he himself has been in a similar situation. Yet he also writes with detachment because he writes as a poet’; ‘Maguire reduced to a corpse and his fields to a cemetery’ (ibid., p.121; quoted in Smyth, op. cit.) ‘Exile is displaced as an enabling myth, allowing the poet to celebrate the here and now, or to greet the future optimistically.’ (ibid., p.381.) ‘Comedy, as Kavanagh conceives it, is distinguished from satire, both because it is non-rhetorical art and because its attitude towards [its] subject matter is affectionate, not contemptuous.’ (Ibid., p.384.)

Antoinette Quinn (Patrick Kavanagh: Born-Again Romantic, 1991) - further: ‘In The Great Hunger Kavanagh achieved a new kind of poetry, bred of the disenchanted realism advocated by O’Faolain and O’Connor and charged with the polemical zeal of the recently converted, yet altogether different from and independent of the fictions of his mentors, a visionary as well as a documentary poem. Frank O’Connor immediately recognised that The Great Hunger was a poetic masterpiece in the anti-romantic mode and he set about actively promoting it.’ (p.121.)

Antoinette Quinn, ‘The Closet Poet’, extract from Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography, in The Irish Times [Weekend] (17 Nov. 2001), supplies this information: Kavanagh’s siblings were Lucy, Jose, who trained as a nurse, but resumed housekeeping while Peter was preparing for his Leaving Cert., in the absence of Celia, who entered Presentation Convent, Mattock, Derbyshire., Aug. 1933; Peter left for St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College, Dublin, Sept. 1934; Kavanagh was secretary, treasurer and captain of the Rovers in 1932; career terminated by discovery that he had embezzled funds for cigarettes, denounced by incoming chairman in 1932; his poem “The Ploughman” incl. in Best Poems of 1930 by ed. Thomas Moult at Jonathan Cape; poems made there first appearance in Dublin Magazine (Oct.-Dec 1931), with “Beech Tree”, “The Goat of Slieve Donard”, and “To a Child”, and frequently contrib. thereafter each year up to 1939; “Ascetic” printed in John O’London’s (May 1931); “To a Blackbird” and “Gold Watch” printed in Spectator (resp. 9 May & 20 June 1931). Kavanagh walked to Dublin to meet Russell over the days of 18th-20th, acting the ‘country gobshite’ in ‘pretending’ to be a peasant poet instead of acting ‘honestly, sincerely’ [q.source] ; Russell’s wife was dying in hospital at the time; Kavanagh recorded, ‘I was afraid of the man. He looked like a man who had awakened from a dark trance. His eyes stared at me like two nightmare eyes from which there was no escape.’ Kavanagh lodged in [the] Iveagh Hostel; “AE” left Ireland permanently July 1933, settling at Bournemouth; “AE” continued to send Kavanagh books regularly; introduced him to Frank O’Connor, F. R. Higgins and Brinsley MacNamara before departure; Kavanagh accepted invitation to stay with Eileen and Seán O’Faolain in their Wicklow cottage nr. Enniskerry; attended “AE”’s funeral at Mount Jerome, 19 July 1935; also his first sighting of Yeats, though they were not introduced.

Antoinette Quinn: ‘[Kavanagh] sought to liberate Anglo-Irish poetry from the political role assigned to it since the middle of the nineteenth century as an agent of nationalism and cultural separatism.’ (Intro., Sel. Poems, p.xi.) The affectionate protrayal of “The everyday’s of nature” or “the life of a street” was to replace totalising, nationalist symbols of a monolithic Ireland. The rhythms and idioms of contemporary vernaculr speech were to take over from the cultivation of an Hiberno-English diction and the adaptation of poetic techniques. “To try to be more human” was Kavanagh’s exhortation to fellow-poets who were still striving to be more Irish.’ (Introduction, p.xi.) ‘It was the Irish language which Independent Ireland was endeavouring to revive that appeared to him acquired speech.’ (Ibid., p.xxviii.) ‘His vocabulary ranges from he racy an demotic to the abstruse; literary allusions jostle with everyday idions; agriculture, suburban and biblical images mingle with those drawn from banking, the boxing ring, the betting show, the pub, the race track.’ (Ibid., p.xxviii.) [The foregoing all quoted in Geraldine Cameron, PGDip. essay, UU 2011

Antoinette Quinn, ed., A Poet”s Country: Selected Prose of Patrick Kavanagh (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2003), Introduction.: ‘In his reflective prose from 1959 onwards Kavanagh was increasingly preoccupoied with constructing an autobiographical myth - supremely in his Self -Portrait, which originally took the form of a televised address in 1962, representing his poetic career as a journey from simplicity to simplicity. Here, and in “From Monaghan to the Grand Canal” and the Author’s Note to the Collected Poems, his convalescence on the bank of the Grand Canal in 1955 after his operation for lung cnacer was presented as a rebirth or baptism into a new literary dispensation. It was a time of epiphanic enlightenment when he had suddenly found a new aesthetic in which comedy, celebration, unimportant subject matter and the use of the vernacular were central. / In his popular journalism he wrote as he talked when relaxing with close companions. When he set out to entertain, people from all walks of life were charmed by his conversation. He treated his newspaper or magazine readers as friends and partisans, confiding in them, engaging their interest and sympathy. Whereas in his popular journalism he is often self-deprecating, presenting himself as a comic character, a fall guy, losing out to shrewder, more worldly-wise fellows, in his literary and cultural journalism from Envoy onwards he customarily adopts an authoritative, magisterial or sweepingly derisive tone, disposing of opponents or opposing viewpoints with a single devastating assertion rather than a reasoned argument. He made much use of aphorism and often employed a memorable metaphor as a put-down, as when he offered the image of the Irish-language writer Pádraic Ó Conaire as a synthetic tramp ... with his goat tethered outside the Bailey. In his prose reflections on his own career from the late 1950s onwards, on the contrary, he writes as one bemused by his earlier naïveté about the ways of the world and the prevailing literary fashions of his youth, no longer angry and aggressive but wise, smiling and serene.” (p.16-17.) Quinn also speaks of the ‘terse abusiveness for which he came to be dreaded and disliked’, beginning with contributions in 1947 with attacks on Frank O”Connor (“Coloured Balloons” in The Bell ), and on F. R. Higgins (“The Gallivanting Poet” in Irish Writing, 3). [p.13]. See further remarks on Niall Sheridan’s selection of Kavanagh’s prose in Collected Pruse, under Sheridan, q.v.)

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Alan Peacock, ‘Received Religion and Secular Vision: MacNeice and Kavanagh’, in Robert Welch, ed., Irish Writers and Religion (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992), pp.148-68: ‘In his final period, Kavanagh saw himself as graduating to a lyric mode which is limited ins cope and unassuming in manner, but which puts even such an achievement as “The Great Hunger” in diminishing perspective. He did this moreover while living a life reminisicent of a down-at-heel Beckettian character, lounging about St Stephen’s Green or on the banks of the Grand Canal during his convalescence after a remarkable recovery from lung cancer in 1955 - a complete subscription in other words to the ordinary, the local and the quotidian in life-style and in the outward themes of his poetry. Reading the sporting press on the sunny side of the Grand Canal, Kavanagh was able to affirm the phenomenal world in a kind of “re-birth”. Most importantly, though, he was able to deploy a formal technique which registered this access of generalised “love” arising out of the particular.’ (p.161.) [Cont.]

Alan Peacock (‘Received Religion and Secular Vision: MacNeice and Kavanagh’, 1992) - cont.: ‘In his essay “From Monaghan to The Grand Canal” (1959) Kavanagh correlates his “rediscovery” of his roots in his “grove on the banks of the Grand Canal” with his early experience of the “same emotion” in Monaghan [Patrick Kavanagh: Man and Poet, 1986, p.249; rep. from Studies, Spring 1959]. His sense of roots however is now emphatically schooled away from the merely social or topographical [quotes]: “Roots in the soil meant that you knew about people living close to nature, struggling for survival on. the small farm, and you had a practical knowledge of animal breeding. / But of course roots in the soil have nothing to do with these things. What are our roots? What is our material? / Real roots lie in our capacity for love and its abandon. The material itself has no special value; it is what our imagination and our love does to it. / It is this confident discovery, plus the conviction that “laughter is the most poetic thing in life” [Ibid., p.255] that differentiates the late sonnets from the early lyrics - a new perspective which is already exemplified in “Epic” (1951). / In this poem, after the explicitly mock-heroic signalling of the title, the local is grandiloquently inflated: “I have lived in important places, times / When great events were decided, who owned / That half a rood of rock, a no-man”s land / Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.” [CP, p.238] Whatever Kavanagh”s kinship however with the local farmers, whose Homeric disputes exert more claim on his attention than “the Munich bother”, it is with nothing less than Homer”s ghost as mouthpiece that the true creative purview is resoundingly articulated: “He said: I made the Iliad from such / A local row. Gods make their own importance.” / This is a quite different mock-heroic note from the depreciatory techniques of the Dublin satires of the forties. [See note.] It is the forerunner of the expansive, assertive humour (“the right kind of loving laughter” (Idem.) which is to be developed in the more intensely personal vision of “The Hospital” and, definitively, in “Lines Written on a Seat on The Grand Canal, Dublin, ‘Erected to The Memory of Mrs Dermot O”Brien’”. / “After a lifetime of experience, as Rilke pointed out, we find just a few lines.”’ (“From Monaghan to The Grand Canal” (Ibid., p.256.) [Cont.]

Alan Peacock (‘Received Religion and Secular Vision: MacNeice and Kavanagh’, 1992): ‘Kavanagh”s later sonnets are, by common consent, visionary, mystical or religious in their tenor. I have tried to argue that the articulation of this vision calls upon deep and no doubt by now largely instinctive resources of art. In particular, the mock-heroic cast of these poems is important in the expression of Kavanagh”s tendency towards a micro-cosmic view of the world - his ability to intuit the universal in the local and particular. Moreover, the mock-heroic mode also carries with it an endemic sense of humour and comedy - hence accommodating what, as we have seen, Kavanagh saw as being an important part of a mature poetic [167] vision. The controlling idiom however remains conversational, “For we must record love”s mystery without claptrap,” and the overall impression remains one of artless directness and informality. Kavanagh”s control of this unassuming colloquial decorum is central to the achievement of these poems, and as with MacNeice there is an irony in the fact that his very mastery in this demanding technical area might be too successful and blind the reader to the full measure of the poetry.’ (End.) Note - Peacock adds: ‘I would agree with Anthony Cronin that achievements such as “The Paddiad” are sometimes too easily dismissed in appreciations of Kavanagh: “Joyce is allowed the possibility of universalism where Kavanagh is not.” (Cronin, Heritage Now, Dingle: Brandon Press 1982, p.192.) In connection with present topic, it might be argued (space permitting) how the techniques of the Dublin satires are relevant to the development of the casual, comic element in the later sonnets rather than somehow eccentric to the main lines of Kavanagh”s development as a poet.’ (p.229.)

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Seán Ó Tuama, Repossessions: Selected Essays on Irish Literary Heritage (Cork UP 1995), Chap. 16: ‘Celebration of Place in Irish Writing’: “[...] Seamus Heaney points to a certain lack of dimension in Kavanagh’s use of place in his work. Wavanaghs place-names: he says, “are there to stake out a personal landscape, they declare one man’s experience, they are denuded of tribal or etymological implications. Mucker, Dundalk, Inniskeen, provide no frisson beyond the starkness of their own daunting, consonantal noise.” / This perceptive comment alerts us to the fact that one would never guess from Kavanagh’s poetry that he spent his youth in a territory where the gods and godesses of the Ulster sagas once played out their complicated [252] games of love and war; where every townland once echoed with the memory of heroic deeds. At the same time it may not be quite accurate for Heaney to say that the poet’s use of placenames declares “one man’s experience” Kavanagh obviously shared in the traditional communal feeling that the home-place or territory was indeed the stable centre of the universe, that the surrounding hills were “eternal”; and that some gods - whose names he does not know - preside over the local scene. “I have lived in important places,” Kavanagh declares in the well-known poem where he has Homer assuring him that local rows and heroics are not to be minimized: “I made the Iliad / from such a local row. Gods make their own / importance.” It is clear that the absence of a sanctioning mythology was at least a matter of passionate concern to him in his exploration of the poetry of place. In that way he reflects a traditional concern.” [Cont.]

Seán Ó Tuama (Repossessions: Selected Essays on Irish Literary Heritage, 1995) - cont: ‘It can be said then that while passion for place remains an integral part of the work of Patrick Kavanagh and of the work of a large number of other Irish writers in English, that sense of place - the sense of all the historical, mythological, environmental and familial associations previously mentioned - tends to fade away. In the nineteenth-century linguistic changeover from Irish to English, the passion has been cut off to some extent from its primal Irish source, and remains somewhat under-developed, unarticulated. And some writers, W.B. Yeats for instance, deploy place-names coldly in a formal, rhetorical fashion to establish a certain tone of voice or to achieve the sought after verse pattern. / On the other hand, Máirtín Ó Direáin, a modern poet writing in Irish, has no great difficulty in fitting his own long lyric obsession with the island of Aran into the complete traditional framework - even though his evocation of Aran as the paradise of his childhood takes absolute precedence over all other elements of his sense of place. Again a much younger poet, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, has made unique creative use of her sense of place in a remarkable series of poems written on her return from Turkey to live in West Kerry. [...]’

Kevin Whelan, ‘The Bases of Regionalism’, in Prionsias Ó Drisceoil, ed., Culture in Ireland - Regions: Identity and Power [Proceedings of the Cultures of Ireland Group Conference] (Belfast: QUB/IIS 1993): ‘The classic celebration of the townland’s centrality is Patrick Kavanagh’s “Epic”, where the townland names of Ballyrush and Gortin carry the charge, authority and resonance of the poem, especially as balanced against Munich. Kavanagh deploys the intimate territoriality of the townland and the Duffy’s and the McCabes’ micro-empire against the macro-European empire and their territoriality theatre of the Second World War. He does not find the townland strategy wanting.’ (p.9.)

Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995): ‘[A]t first, when he was still close to his Monaghan roots, he denounced the false consciousness of the peasant periphery, but after a decade or more in Dublin, he fell back into line with it, going to extraordinary lengths to recreate Baggott [sic for Baggot] Street as an urban pastoral, as ”my Pembrokeshire”. And that invented Ireland proved far more attractive to poetry-readers among the new Dubliners than Kavanagh”s bitter indictment of rural torpor in The Great Hunger.’ (p.492.)

Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry (Belfast: Blackstaff 1995), Introduction: ‘[…] the lack of an audience for their [Clarke and Kavanagh’s] satire reduced much of what might have been forecful cultural and social commentary to flailing and would-be comic doggerel in the case of Kavanagh, and a species of muttering protest, at once over-topical and arcane, in that of Clarke.’ (p.3.) ‘[Kavanagh] was the first writer to create wholly out of the vernacular English of Ireland a poetic voice free of whimsey and folksiness. Irish poets after Kavanagh are at last psychologically and technically sure of the resources of their English medium: his example can be said to have made possible the freedom of address of such colloquially rooted contemporary poetries as Heaney’s, Durcan’s, and Muldoon’s.’ (Idem.)

Richard Kearney, ”Post-Revival Demythologizers”, in Postnationalist Ireland : Politics, Culture, Philosophy (London: Routledge 1997): ”He rejected the revivalist shibboleths of genuine peasant and aristocrat. ”Irishness”, he quipped, was no more than “a way of anti-art”, a means of playing at being a poet without actually being one. To the mythologizing spirit of the Revival, Kavanagh opposed what he called ”the comic spirit”: an attitude which scorned the self-importance of Grand Narrative, preferring the carelessness and ordinariness of the immediate. This deflation of posturing he described as the “difficult art of not caring”. Only a fidelity to the parochial and local, to experience in the lower case, could hope to arrive at that highest because simplest of all conditions - “complete casualness”. Further, ”The provincialism of middle-class Catholic Dublin - as Kavanagh discovered when he tried to launch his journal Kavanagh”s Weekly there in the 1950s - was quite as inimical to art as the aesthetic elitism of the fashionable Ascendancy. The mean-minded materialism of the former class was simply the obverse of the effete spiritualism of the latter. Whenever Kavanagh himself chose mythic figures - which was rare enough - he generally drew from Greek rather than Celtic mythology, and always with a view to showing how the Grand Narratives of myth are inextricably bound up with the vicissitudes of everyday life.’ (pp 124-126.)

Anthony Cronin, Dead as Doornails (Dublin 1976): ‘We walked back through the summer evening to the flat in Pembroke Road where ... he provided me with black tea and dry bread and I saw for the first time the battered sofa, the old newspapers, books and yellowing manuscripts scattered over the floor, the tea-leaves in the bath, the mountain of ash that spilled out of the grate. I asked him rather stupidly, did be usually cook for himself, and he answered: “I sometimes boil an egg in a teapot, if you call that cooking.”’ (p.76; quoted in Una Agnew, The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh, Columba Press 1988, p.135.)

Anthony Cronin, ‘The Great Humour’, feature-article on Patrick Kavanagh, Magill (Oct. 1997), contains remarks to the effect that the ‘philistine’ Ireland of ‘obscurantism, intolerance and prejudice’ was not as antipathetic to Kavanagh as it is now supposed to have been to O’Connor or O’Faoláin, and that he would ‘have preferred that sort of place to the liberal, well-meaning paradise, anxiously correct in all its political and official attitudes, sedulously approving of the “outspoken” writers in the midst, which we enjoy today. / He was quite puritanical himself in certain ways and fully conscious of the fact that art thrives on repression. The official censorship of books and periodicals he regarded as rather a joke, something for mediocre novelists to make a fuss about, but which could not possibly have any bearing on serious literature. The hegemony of the Catholic church was certainly to him a lesser evil than the triumph of official liberalism was already threatening to be. […] for Kavanagh, the great enemy was consensus, whether liberal or otherwise; and it was not too much to say that he saw its gathering clouds. He was not so much defending the old Ireland as attacking the emergent new. / But any account of Kavanagh’s attitudes must not fail to take account of his self-contradictions, of his contrariness and, most of all, of his humour. … Few things would have provoked him more than the humourless solemnity with which the new liberal Ireland conducts it self-congratulatory discussions, but it would have provoked him to laughter.’ (p.51.)

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Gerry Smyth, ‘The Moment of Kavanagh’s Weekly’, in Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998), pp.103-12: Smyth discusses Kavanagh’s Weekly, and espec. in connection with the coinage ‘Parochialism’ launched in its pages: ‘This acknowledgement of the universal in the local, the specific in the general, allowed Kavanagh to maintain a subversively ironic attitude towards life and literature as he experienced them in postcolonial Ireland. As such, the concept of parochialism developed by him represents one of the first major attempts by an Irish intellectual since Joyce to introduce a qualifying perspective into the narrative of decolonisation.’ (p.108.) ‘[W]ith the development of the concept of parochialism, the attempt to expose the partial vision on which dominant nationalist ideology was constructed, and the resistance offered to the hegemony of specialisation in the [112] realm of literature, Kavanagh’s Weekly represents an important moment in the narrative of modern Irish decolonisation as mediated by the discourse of literary criticism.’ (pp.112-13.) ‘Some parts of Christopher Fry excepted, modern poetic theatre was anathema to Kavanagh. Its Irish practitioners and apologists (such as Austin Clarke and [Padraic] Fallon himself) called forth some of his most splenetic outburst.’ (Kavanagh’s Weekly, 5, p.6.); and further on his critical attitudes.

Una Agnew [Sr.], The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh (Dublin: Columbia Press 1998), Introduction: ‘it is difficult to write about Kavanagh”s mysticism without doing him an injustice. [...; 9] Kavanagh, I believe, had a strong sense of his mission as poet in society. He was druid-like in his demeanour, feeling that he was born to make a poetic contribution to society and that socierty should support him. In this he was disappointed [...; 10] Because he was in love with life, nothing was too mean to be noticed and transformed by him. His official role was that of “prophet and saviour” called to “smelt in passion the commonplaces of life”. This role involves being “a god in a new fashion” who would release people through the medium of poetry from the meanness, sordidness and materialism of life [...] Kavanagh’s poetry is the principal vehicle of his spirituality. At times it exudes such delicate beauty and strong religious sense that he demands our careful attention, not only as a moral poet but as a mystical one as well. Though his poetry has immortalised his native Monaghan landscape with its whitethorn hedges, it is also true that he had gained entrance to the halls of literature through his concern for what pertains to the soul. His visionary qualities bestowed on him “fields that were part of no earthly estate”. And yet he ruled as “king of [11] banks and stones and every blooming thing”, cherishing ordinary everyday realities. His earthly and unearthly estate gave depth and scope to the literary legacy he has left us.[...;’ 12] [Cont.]

Sister Una Agnew: ‘Purified again and again by poverty, by his stuggle for self-education, by the gigantic task of learning the trade of poetry in an environment which was frankly unsympathetic to the requirements of Parnassus, he embarked on a lonely poetic journey.’ (Agnew, op. cit., 1998, q.p.; quoted in Kenneth McVerry, UG Diss. [draft], 2011.)

Una Agnew [Sr.] (The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh, 1998), Introduction - cont.: ‘Kavanagh speaks prophetically of building “a new city”, “a city of God”. Despite his limited formal education he was aware that he was using a heavily-laden metaphor. St Augustine”s City of God illustrated the fact that God”s ultimate purpose was being worked out in history. He promulgated his message through his metaphor of the two cities, the City of God rooted in the love of God, and the City of Earth which finds its radicle in love of self. Thus Augustine succeeded in establishing an enormous chasm between “the city of the world” and ”the city of God”. / Kavanagh sought to bridge the gap between God”s kingdom and the earthly kingdom. He was closer to the gospel notion that the kingdom of God is among you than many preaching the gospel at this time. His God was in the fields and in the ditches and in the hedgerows. The pessimism that clung to Augustinian thinking still permeated the Irish church of Kavanagh”s time. A sharp distinction between the world of God and the “tarnished” world of humanity pertained. / Kavanagh wanted to live in both worlds. For him the created world was as God-filled and radiant as the heavenly city of God. Kavanagh was instinctively holistic. His poetry, became a radical affirmation of life, of earth, of the human condition and of God”s presence everywhere. He became the forgotten voice of the sacred “commonplaces of life. Unlike Augustine, the poet promised a transformed vision of the world. He undertook to build “a new city”. Instead of concentrating on making one place, the church building for example, holy, the poet spills his magic and mystery everywhere. / Here was an attempt, long before the official theologians proclaimed it openly, to break old moulds of secularism versus religion and preach a new life-affirming theology of faith and vision. Kavanagh was expressing a sophisticated theology of incarnation well ahead of the official church of his time. For him, the fields as well as all humankind were involved in the miracle of [12] the Word made flesh.’ (pp.9-12.)

Una Agnew [Sr.] (The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh, 1998): ‘By way of conclusion, I identify in the movment from Monaghan to the Grand Canal an intensely idiosyncratic inner journey. The poet pursued his mystical pathway awkwardly but with painstaking perserverance. The persistent subtraction of all that is not God, leaves the poet with a solid poetic kernel corresponding to a firm intuition of God. Kavanagh’s contribution to poetry must therefore be seen as both thoroughly Christian and essentially mystical. It is, I believe, a worth “buttonhole” which he can proudly wear in the heavenly place where he undoubtedly finally rests.’ (end Introduction; p.15.) Note that Agnew’s argument is informed by a belief in the mystical communion between primitive and simple man and God, viz., ‘Tilling ... the clay put[s] primitive man into a universe steeped in the sacred.’ (Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, trans. Stephen Corrin, NY: Harper & Row 1962, pp.142-44 [sic].) ‘This intensity of love changes moments of dire poverty into moments of vivid illumination. [...] By the time he writes his “Prelude”, he can speak with the authority of one who has struggled to transcend adversity. Poverty without love he knows to be penury. [...] when he grarefully summons up past experience, Kavanagh engages in a magical work of poetic transformation. [...; quotes: ‘... Collect the river and the stream / That flashed upon a pensive theme, / And a positive world make, / A world man’s world cannot shake.’] The secret of Kavanagh’s life was in his firm resolve never to abandon love “though face to face with destitution”. Few will gues how difficult it was to remain steadfast to this promise. / His love resembles that of St Francis of Assisi, wanting to love poverty even when it hurt most. He refuses to allow “destitution” to sour his poetic impulse which is based on love. [136] Deprivation in Kavanagh was never mere stoicism; it moved willy nilly into the realm of spiritual poverty - the freedom and serenity of the “birds of the air” who, while possessing nothing have everything. He reaches a climax of detachment and celebration of life in his poem “October” [‘O leafy yellowness you create for me / A world that was an now is poised above time, / I do not need to puzzle out Eternity / As I walk this arboreal street on the edge of a town.’] Bitterness crept in only when poetry deserted him. In its throes he resorted to writing satire and doggerel.’ (p.137; [Chap., “Purification I”].)

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Seán MacReamoinn, ‘Singing the God in the Tree’ [‘Was Patrick Kavanagh a Christian Mystic? Sean MacReammoin is unconvinced’], review of Una Agnew, The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh: A Buttonhole in Heaven?, in (The Irish Times, 13 Feb. 1999), quotes the author’s belief that ‘somewhere in the nineteenth century, an anti-life heresy entered religion’ and her argument that Kavanagh was aligned with the spirit of the Celtic Church. MacReamoinn remarks: ‘the decline of the Irish language signalled the death of a Christian culture which had always retained, and been nourished by, a rich “pagan” subsoil. The vacuum, left in Irish life was too easily filled by imported religiosity and moralism, in the shape of Italianate devotional novelties and Victorian models of behaviour.’ Quotes Kavanagh: ‘the ghost of a culture haunted the snobnosed hills’; considers that the author points to the still centre in Kavanagh’s work, but does not demonstrate the presence of a Christian mysticism there.

Kevin Kiely, review of Una Agnew, The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh: “A buttonhole in Heaven?” (Columba Press 1998), in Books Ireland, May 1999; reviewer notes author’s persuasion: ‘I take him to have been a Christian .. He was shy to speak his belief in God, except perhaps to his sister Celia’, but doubts the conclusion; has praise for her account of family circumstances, such as the fact that Kavanagh’s father was an illegitimate child of one [Peter] Kevany and Nancy Callan from Mucker, a fact shamefully hidden from the poet by his father and his mother, Bridget [née] Quinn; the father played the melodeon in drunkenness; the mother kept the farm going. Kiely remarks: ‘being made a fool is good for the soul … it makes a man into something unusual, a saint or a poet or an imbecile’ and conjectures that Kavanagh was a combination of all three. Kavanagh was also ‘one of the first Irish theologians to recognise the femininity of God’. (Books Ireland, May 1999, pp.142-43). See the corresponding narrative of Peter Kevany in Una Agnew, The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh, Columba Press 1998, pp.144-45: ‘[...] It was Stuart [sic] Trench, then manager of the Bath Estate schools, who compounded the injury further by reporting his teacher to the Commissioners of Education. [...; 144; further under Trench, infra.]

David Krause, memoir of Liam Miller, in Irish Literary Supplement [Boston] (Fall 1992), records the following account of John Berryman’s reading in Dublin in the summer of 1967: ‘when things were about to begin, the unpredictable Patrick Kavanagh, who had announced in advance to all who would listen that he was in reluctant attendance, emitted one of his loud harrumping coughs and stomped out, followed by his entourage of grumbling cronies. Kavanagh felt insulted, it turned out, because during the introductory remarks the name of Austin Clarke who was not in attendance, had been mentioned - Clarke, his hated rival poet whose mere name Kavanagh had absolutely forbidden anyone to mention in his presence.’

Mary Robinson [Pres. of Ireland, dedicating the Kavanagh Center in Inniskeen in 1994]: ‘Let us remember him as he deserves to be remembered: not as an ornament to our literature - although he certainly is that - but as a poet who is still living among us, through his powerful and challenging poems and the force of his artistic conscience.’ (q.p.; quoted in Irish Times review, 7 April 2001; quoted in Peter Kavanagh, Patrick Kavanagh: A Life Chronicle, 2001 [q.p.; see Stephen McKinley, ‘His Brother’s Keeper […]’, in Irish Echo Newspaper, 18-24 Sept. 2002.)

Richard Murphy, The Kick (London: Granta 2002) [autobiography], of Geoffrey Taylor: ‘I well remembering his kindness in giving me his copy of the rare Cuala Press edition of The Great Hunger by Patrick Kavanagh, right after I told him how Paddy had defrauded me of ten shillings in McDaid’s on a promise of getting me the book from Mrs Yeats the same afternoon. The gift was symbolic, tending to remove a sting inflicted by a poet of genius on a young one who was unknown, to make good an act of peasant meanness with one of Anglo-Irish generosity, and to recognise the older poet’s need to defraud people for money to buy whiskey and stout, and the apprentice’s need for books and recognition.’ (p.166; the transaction with Kavanagh is recounted on p.125ff.)

Frank Shovlin, in The Irish Literary Periodical 1923-1958 (OUP 2003) [discussing John Hewitt’s “Once Alien Here”]: ‘Hewitt’s regionalism, while uncomfortable with what it perceives as English probity, is equally unwilling to be identified with Gaelic culture, and follows instead an uneasy if familiar intersection of blood and soil in an effort to establish its credentials. It is interesting to contrast this poem with another Ulster poem written three years earlier and also bound up in the symbolism of clay: Patrick Kavanagh”s The Great Hunger. While Hewitt sees attachment to the soil as something of which to be proud, a connection which establishes political and social rights, Kavanagh sees it as a curse, a hindering and malign force in the life of his Monaghan small farmer Patrick Maguire. Kavanagh, of course, was from a small farm background and was familiar with the material realities of agricultural life. Hewitt, on the other hand was Belfast born and bred. But the idea of including Kavanagh in the pantheon of Ulster regionalists would have been alien to Hewitt and to many of those who formed the circle of writers who came together through Lagan and subsequently through Rann. In the same issue of Lagan as Hewitt”s “Once Alien Here” appeared Barbara Hunter”s poetic tribute to Michael Collins “22 August 1922”. It provides us with one of the few pointers to the future Rann editor’s political viewpoint. An elegy for an Irish Republican hero seems oddly out of place in Lagan but the poem works more as a bitter attack on Fianna Fail, then presiding in government over a neutral twenty-six counties [...].’ (p.164.)

John MacDonagh, ‘“Tore Down à la Rimbaud”: Brendan Kennelly and the French Connection’, in Reinventing Ireland Through a French Prism, ed. Eamon Maher, et al. [Studies in Franco-Irish Relations] (Frankfurt: Peter Lang 2007): ‘Kennelly notes Kavanagh’s wonder at “the startling significance and beauty inherent in casual things” and there can be little doubt that Kavanagh’s poetry liberated a great many succeeding poets into writing about the commonplace, be it Derek Mahon’s brilliantly evocative “Garage in Co. Cork”, Michael Hartnett’s savage indictment of rural life “A Small Farm” or Seamus Heaney’s topographical masterpiece “Bogland”.’ (Ibid., p.182; see further under Kennelly, infra.)

Patrick Henchy, former director of the National Library of Ireland, has written: ‘There has been much discussion recently about the literary remains of the poet, Patrick Kavanagh, and I was amazed that there was such a lack of knowledge, or even awareness, of the valuable Kavanagh collection in the Manuscripts Department of the National Library. In 1950, I negotiated with Paddy Kavanagh for the purchase of his manuscripts. He was a constant visitor to the Library and we had become good friends. When I asked him about his manuscripts, he replied that the early ones were in Monaghan, “probably lying under the bed being eaten by the Mucker mice.” He expressed satisfaction when I told him that the Library would like to purchase them. He duly brought them along. A price was agreed, which, according to the standards of the time, was good, and Paddy was more than pleased. When asked about the manuscript of The great hunger which was not amongst the collection, he informed me that it did not exist. “This”, he said, “I wrote on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper, including lavatory paper.” He then agreed to write out a fair copy of The Great Hunger. (The National Library of Ireland, 1941-1976 - A Look Back: A Paper read to the National Library of Ireland Society, NLI 1986.) For list of NLI holdings, see References, infra. Jaki McCarrick, ‘Patrick Kavanagh: no “peasant poet” but a Monaghan modernist’, in The Irish Times (22 Sept. 2016) [“Long Read”]:

[...]
Once poetry began to possess the young Kavanagh, he spent many evenings after working on his parents’ nine-acre farm studying the craft. For this he used old school texts and, after discovering The Irish Statesman (edited by AE) in RQ O’Neil’s shop in Dundalk, in 1925, he began to make regular trips to the town (six miles from Inniskeen), either to buy this publication or study it in Dundalk Library. Antoinette Quinn states in her seminal work, Kavanagh: A Biography, that during this apprentice period “[Kavanagh] pored over back copies of Poetry (Chicago).” Calls to Dundalk Library have revealed that it has never held these American journals, so perhaps Kavanagh was given these by AE, or by the playwright Paul Vincent Carroll, whom he befriended on one of his Dundalk visits. Despite the mystery of the source of such a key magazine (devoted as it was, initially, to Imagist poets) in terms of tracing Kavanagh’s early reading materials, it is clear that as a young man Kavanagh made a serious study of the poems and literary theories that stirred him, and duly applied these to his work:

“I read the work of Ezra Pound and Hopkins with delight. Walter Lowenfels, a poet who made queer verse about machinery, gave my imagination a lift forward. But it was in the American poets I was chiefly interested. Horace Holley, H.D., Gertrude Stein, and all the Cubists and Imagists, excited my clay-heavy mind. Gertrude Stein’s work was like whiskey to me; her strange rhythms broke up the cliché formation of my thought.”

Kavanagh’s early poems, divided into three groups by Antoinette Quinn in Born Again Romantic, though considered derivative, and largely neo-Romantic by some, nonetheless provide clear evidence of an applied study of Imagism, which, Quinn agrees, “offered a contrary inducement, enabling him to single out some appropriate scene or object and focus on it in isolation.” An example of Kavanagh’s adherence to the Imagist credo is the 1931 poem, Gold Watch:

On inner case
No. 2244
Elgin Nath...
Sold by a guy in a New York store

With its detailed observation the poem is a fine example of William Carlos Williams’s aphorism, “no ideas but in things”, and also of Pound’s “direct treatment of the thing” [...]

- see full-text copy as attached or go online.

 

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