Study Guide

A Country Walk

by Thomas Kinsella

A Country Walk Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Many Kinsella poems are conceived as either quests or ordeals, debating either how best to proceed or how best to abide by the present’s intransigent grip. Part of the exemplary character of “A Country Walk” is that it mediates between those two polar options. The walk functions as a release and as an intensification; as an enactment of witness and of rejection; as a depiction of ruin, despoliation, and unfulfillment; and as an impetus to poetry. The apparent entailment of negative and positive, which is evidently thought to be as inevitable as the placing of one “slow footfall” after another, allows the poem to reach a nadir, “the valley floor,” perhaps, and an apex, “the green and golden light” of Venus, an inspirational star by which to steer.

Despite the sense of resolution, however, which the close of “A Country Walk” suggests, the poem’s main burden is premised on a notion of the incompleteness of each of the worlds it surveys. The idea of resolution is conveyed in the closing line, where, by the simple means of quotation marks, poetry is resorted to as an option owing something in permanence and beauty to the evening star. Yet what that line—presented as though it might be the opening line of another poem—speaks of is flux and turbulence. It is not difficult to imagine that the material of this poem will also find a focus in “an omphalos of scraps,” particularly when that phrase comes from a poetic treatment (a simile) of the one element of natural continuity in “A Country Walk,” the river.

Yet, as the river’s presence suggests, there is not merely change in the sense of an aimless succession of fluctuations; there is also persistence, or what the poem invokes by the use of the past participle “endured.” Not only does the river possess a dual, ostensibly contradictory nature, but so does the phenomenon of human time, which has for its signature “the sucking chaos” of history and the “potent calm” of the asylum that is art.