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Essays On Patrick Kavanagh

Seamus Heaney on Patrick Kavanagh

[from the essay "The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh" from Seamus Heaney's The Government of the Tongue, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988]

. . . the later regenerated poet in Kavanagh does not paint at all, but draws.

Painting, after all, involves one in a more laboured relationship with a subject -- or at least in a more conscious and immersed relationship with a medium -- than drawing does. Drawing is closer to the pure moment of perception. The blanknesses which the line travels through in a drawing are not evidence of any incapacity on the artist's part to fill them in. They attest rather to an absolute and all-absorbing need within the line itself to keep on the move. And it is exactly that self-propulsion and airy career of drawing, that mood of buoyancy, that sense of sufficiency in the discovery of a direction rather than any sense of anxiety about the need for a destination, it is this kind of certitude and nonchalance which distinguishes the best of Kavanagh's later work also.

This then is truly creative writing. It does arise from the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, but the overflow is not a reactive response to some stimulus in the world out there. Instead, it is a spurt of abundance from a source within and it spills over to irrigate the world beyond the self. This is what Kavanagh is talking about in the poem "Prelude," when he abjures satire which is a reactive art, an "unfruitful prayer," and embraces instead the deeper, autonomous and ecstatic art of love itself:

But satire is unfruitful prayer,
Only wild shoots of pity there,
And you must go inland and be
Lost in compassion's ecstasy,
Where suffering soars in a summer air --
The millstone has become a star.

When I read those lines in 1963, I took to their rhythm and was grateful for their skilful way with an octosyllabic metre. But I was too much in love with poetry that painted the world in a thick linguistic pigment to relish fully the line-drawing that was inscribing itself so lightly and freely here. I was still more susceptible to the heavy tarpaulin of the verse of The Great Hunger than to the rinsed streamers that fly in the clear subjective breeze of "Prelude."

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. . . .

The Government of the Tongue: Selected Prose, 1978-1987

In his poem “In Memory of My Mother” Patrick Kavanagh states how even after the death of his mother he still feels and visualizes her as being alive. He loved his mother dearly as any other child and says that death can separate his mother physically from him but his mother will remain alive forever in his thoughts.

When Kavanagh says: “I do not think of you lying in the wet clay Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see you walking down a lane among the poplars On your way to the station, or happily”he means that he still feels that his mother is walking happily on her way to the station instead of living still in the wet clay of the graveyard.

Though the title of the poem makes it obvious that the poem is a sad one but a reader gradually realizes that the poet is not sad because he still feels that his mother is alive be it in his thoughts only. The poet also feels that his mother is again and again reminding him the fact that he should stay happy in life. The poet also imagines taking long walks with his mother in the markets and says that while walking with his mother, he gets lost in the oriental streets of thought.

Image Source: dreamatico.com

It is not that the poet is not accepting the fact that his mother is dead but he is in fact thinking that his mother’s soul is happy wherever it is. The poet even imagines his mother smiling up at him and saying that she is resting in eternity when he says “And you smile up at us — eternally.

This poem is not only an inspirational piece for its readers but it also motivates the readers to think that though one loses his or her loved ones; death cannot separate anyone from any other individual whom they love dearly. Yes death is a part of life but one should always remember that though death can separate two individuals but death does not have the power to remove the memories of past which an individual spends with the person he or she loved dearly.

A hidden inspirational message lies in the poem; life means moving on, no matter how hard life is to us, we should learn to move on because life is filled with innumerable and unseen hidden opportunities which lay in front of us only if we get over our fears and sorrows. When life becomes unfair one should always remember the fact that life is about to pose a better opportunity before us we just need to be patient.

The death of the poets mother made him discover the fact that though he was initially scared of losing his mother but soon he realized the fact that death do not possess the power to separate him from his mother mentally.

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