The Poem

Padraic Colum’s “A Connachtman” consists of nine ballad quatrains in which the lyric persona, an old singer from the west of Ireland, imagines his own wake. In a song full of pity and sadness, as well as humor, he views death, on one hand as a mythic continuum of past, present, and future and, on the other, as an irretrievable closure of life. Death makes him look back to his past and remember the numerous joys of life he has shared with his friends. Also, his wake helps him realize that the account of his travels and exploits, retold by the old and admired by the young, has given his life the aura of a Celtic bard. It is this mythic quality that makes it possible for the lyric persona to reunite with the land and its ancient spirit. Yet, together with emphasizing the importance of tradition as a repository of racial identity, the ballad draws the reader’s attention to the idea that death severs humanity’s direct connection with nature and the simple pleasures and beauty of life.

In the opening stanza of the ballad the old peasant singer presents to the reader, in a rather humorous way, his greatest “fear”: a large and noisy wake at which “hundreds” of people come to show their respect. Considering himself modest and insignificant, he remembers, in the second and third stanzas of the ballad, his past travels in the rural, and, thus, most authentic, Irish provinces of Connacht and Munster. A friend of many “good men,” he lets no one...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Forms and Devices

Colum is known for the simple and lyrical quality of his verse. Although he writes his verse in English, he is considered one of the most talented representatives of the Catholic peasant tradition in Ireland during the first decades of the twentieth century. Thus, as a folklorist, storyteller, and poet, he strives to reproduce in his verse the vitality of rhythm and the simplicity of Irish folk songs and traditional ballads. In “A Connachtman” Colum demonstrates this by following the quantitative meter (determined by the relative duration of sound), a characteristic feature of Old and Middle Irish prosody, instead of the accentual-syllabic (qualitative) rhythm used in English versification. For example, Colum employs predominantly the anapestic foot—a three-beat foot with stress on the third syllable—which allows him to achieve the musical and songlike qualities he desires. Also, the end rhymes the poet uses in the b positions of the rhyme scheme abcb of the ballad are primarily masculine—it is the final accented syllable that contains the repetition of sounds: “place” and “face,” “say” and “pray,” “day” and “away.” This results in a powerful rhyme, easy to remember and quite frequent in folk songs.

In addition to rhyme, Colum emphasizes assonance and alliteration in end rhyme or internal rhyme positions—two factors that also contribute to the musical quality and the simplicity, in a very positive...

(The entire section is 414 words.)