Patrick Kavanagh, 'The Parish and the Universe’ , in Collected Pruse (1967) - extract

Source: rep. in Mark Storey, ed., Poetry and Ireland since 1800: A Source Book, London: Routledge 1988, pp.204-206; first printed ‘Mao Tse-tung Unrolls His Mat’, in Kavanagh’s Weekly, 7 (24 May 1952); rep. in Collected Pruse (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1967), and also as ‘Parochialism and Provincialism’, in Antoinette Quinn, ed., A Poet’s Country: Selected Prose (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2003), p.237.

To have the deep poetic heart
Is more than all poetic fame. (Tennyson)

A man should not want to be an artist. To want to be anything is the sure way to drive the impulse away. A man wanting to be in love cannot contract the disease.
 None of those whom the world calls creative ever thought for a moment about Art, though I admit that I am over-stating the case here: there have been art for art’s sake periods.
 The purpose of all expression is happiness. If you have something to express, then the expression of it will relieve you, produce a catharsis: but if you have nothing to express you will endure the agonies of a man whose stomach is empty, retching with sea-sickness.
 Art is never art. What is called art is merely life.
 This is particularly true of literature which is hardly ever art. Whenever an architect tries to be an artist as is happening every day, he becomes vulgar.
 Beautiful things are made by people who enjoy doing them. If you are not enjoying yourself it is a bad sign. [204]
 If you stand outside any position however dreadful it seems you are not at its mercy; this is true of all tyrannies including that of class.
 Men are forever seaching for a formula which is not dependent on inspiration, a formula for making a poet without his having to be born. The majority will on all occasions root hysterically (and with hatred in their eyes at the smallest criticism) for any form of art which is within the reach of a hard-working chap.
 I do not think that ever before were so many people convinced that art in some form is necessary to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Hitler war gave a great lift to this feeling, but it is a constant human emotion.
 Hence you have armies whose private soldiers may take it in no happy spirit if you think that their interests are crude sex and sexy journalism. They may well feel affronted at you putting them back in the ghetto of their class. They may be expecting a lecturer on Whitman or a member of a symposium on the ballet, or interested in a Gramophone Society.
 Listening to music up to this has provided the majority of these people with their art. But listening to music is not enough; it is a poor form of self-expression. They don’t want to be an audience always, though they are willing to be some kinds of audience. They want some sort of orgy. In England the tradition was better. The England idea was to keep the masses from getting a taste for something that would only make them unhappy. The vast hinterland of anonymous masses has made for the greatest of English literature. In America you have millions of highly conscious folk and very little poetry.
 The masses of men are no longer - not even the English manual labourers - willing to live lives of quiet desperation. They may be desperate but they will let you know about it.
 There is yet another need for a formula for synthetic poetry. As I think Auden did remark in a wireless talk the faith basis for the poet is breaking down. In society’s enthusiasm for the creative imagination is the desert of consciousness.
 Parochialism and provincialism are [direct] opposites. The provincial has no mind of his own; he does not trust what his eyes see until he has heard what the metropolis - towards which his eyes are turned - has to say on any subject. This runs through all activities.
 The parochial mentality on the other hand is never in any doubt about the social and artistic validity of his parish. All great [205] civilizations are based on parochialism - Greek, Israelite, English.
 In Ireland we are inclined to be provincial not parochial, for it requires a great deal of courage to be parochial. When we do attempt having the courage of our parish we are inclined to go false and to play up to the larger parish on the other side of the Irish Sea. In recent times we have had two great Irish parishioners James Joyce and George Moore. They explained nothing. The public had either to come to them or stay in the dark. And the public did come. The English parishioner recognizes courage in another man’s parish.
 Advising people not to be ashamed of having the courage of their remote parish, is not free from many dangers. There is always that element of bravado which takes pleasure in the notion that the potato-patch is the ultimate. To be parochial a man needs the right kind of sensitive courage and the right kind of sensitive humility.
 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 that I analyse myself I realize that throughout everything I write there is this constantly recurring motif of the need to go back. Why do we always need to go back? What is it we want to return to? Freud says, the womb, and there is something in it too. We are never happy from the moment we leave the womb. The Mother is the roots. The Mother is the thing which gives us a world of our own. The Mother is the basis of romantic love.

Far have I travelled from the warm womb.
Far have I travelled from home.

So it is for these reasons that I return to the local newspaper. Who has died? Who has sold his farm? [206]

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