“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.)