Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh did not write many poems but what he did write was a great deal of very, very good ones… and a few great ones. He also wrote one of my favorite literary autobiographies, The Green Fool.
When I was in my mid-20s, I spent a few years reading primarily Irish literature. It began with the year and a half where I read almost nothing but W.B. Yeats, all his poetry and prose that I could get my hands on – including his entire collected poems cover to cover numerous times. Kavanaugh was the first poet I found when my “Yeats year” was done. For that reason he holds a special place in my memory and my bookcase.
For a number of years, Kavanaugh’ books were out of print. My old paperback version of his Collected Poems is falling apart, and the the pages so browned with age that my pencil-marked notes seem like I could simply blow them away. I am gratified to see that there is a Kindle version ofPatrick Kavanaugh’s Collected Poems now available as well as a new paperback edition. You could get either here.
There are a number of poems I could pick to showcase Kavanaugh. “Peace” seems as good as any. In it we see the essence of Kavanaugh’s best poetry: rural Irish landscape and themes, musicality, ordinary language and things made beautiful and eternal.
And sometimes I am sorry when the grass
Is growing over the stones in quiet hollows
And the cocksfoot leans across the rutted cart-pass
That I am not the voice of country fellows
Who now are standing by some headland talking
Of turnips and potatoes or young corn
Of turf banks stripped for victory.
Here Peace is still hawking
His coloured combs and scarves and beads of horn.
Upon a headland by a whinny hedge
A hare sits looking down a leaf-lapped furrow
There’s an old plough upside-down on a weedy ridge
And someone is shouldering home a saddle-harrow.
Out of that childhood country what fools climb
To fight with tyrants Love and Life and Time?