Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

One can see how Kennedy explores the poem as a confession booth in “First Confession” and how his play on sound is an important feature in the way in which he sees the world, a nexus of ritual and authority, of opposition and fusion. Here, Kennedy reaches beyond the individual poem to offer a view of the nature of the poet and art and how both relate to that other spiritual authority, the Church. As the young man is confronted by the imposing authority of his religion, so the poet confronts ritualistic poetic forms, using them to express conflict. In doing so, the poet brings them together and, paradoxically, makes an artistic whole out of opposing realms. If art is a spiritual experience, then the poem unifies human experience despite, or because of, religion.

The poem’s display of technical skill underscores the idea that art plays a major role in the spiritual life. Poetic technique is inseparable from spiritual expression and fulfillment. Kennedy’s witty handling of language is both a quest and a demonstration. It fulfills his desire to be a poet, free to construct witty poems, but his poetry is also a serious quest for meaning and guidance. He makes and explores at the same time. Poetry makes the two acts inseparable, as religion and humanity are inseparable, when rightly aligned. Kennedy reveals in this poem some ambivalence on this point. On one hand, confession is a voluntary submission to authority, as is writing in a traditional poetic...

(The entire section is 543 words.)