The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Basket-Maker,” by the Irish poet Padraic Colum, is a lyric poem that considers the role of the anonymous artisan in connecting the present with the historical past. The speaker calls attention to the specific roles and uses of baskets in rural Irish life, the solitary role of the itinerant basket-maker, and, ultimately, the importance of the nameless laborers who produce the stuff of civilization.

The basket-maker serves an important practical function in Irish society, illustrated in the poem through the discussion of the functionality of the baskets he produces, but his deeper importance pertains to his position, as a member of the working class and also as an artist, within the larger context of Irish cultural identity. When the basket-maker asserts, toward the end of the poem, “‘I travel Ireland’s length and breadth,’” his tone reveals a unity with his country, even a sense of ownership or propriety: “There was dominion in the way he said it.” The apparent humility of the basket-maker’s station in life is transformed into a pride both in his craft and in his very anonymity.

The poem opens by highlighting connections between ancient and modern, as the speaker, while watching the basket-maker at his craft in the marketplace, is approached by a friend who is versed in “the lore of ancient fields and houses.” The friend bears recently excavated Bronze Age relics, including golden arm-rings, such as would have been...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The predominant style of “The Basket-Maker” is blank verse—unrhymed iambic pentameter—though Colum uses several shorter lines throughout for variation and emphasis. Blank verse, the most natural and least obtrusive regular meter in English language poetry, is entirely appropriate to the poet’s theme and purpose; in a poem about unpretentious natural craftsmanship and tradition both in basket-making and poet craft, the use of blank verse subtly reinforces the poet’s message, and the parallel between the speaker and the basket-maker, “two of [them] only in the market-place,” is emphasized. The basket-maker uses “No toolbut his own hands, a knife/ That he had used since his apprenticeship,” while the poet-speaker uses unrhymed iambic pentameter, one of the most common and natural tools in English prosody, to depict the craftsman and describe his relationship to his craft and his native land.

Just as the poem’s meter emphasizes its theme, Colum’s careful choice of unfamiliar words serves to highlight the poem’s main ideas. His description of the basket he is purchasing as a “withied shape,” for example, calls attention to the archaic and potentially foreign nature of his subject matter. The word “withied” pertains to willows (the long, supple twigs of which are frequently used in basket-making) or to something tied with twigs. Like several of the more unfamiliar words the speaker uses, the origin of “withied,” in this...

(The entire section is 538 words.)