The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Country Walk” is representative of Thomas Kinsella’s middle period in a number of important respects. Together with the title poem of the collection in which it occurs, its tensions, themes, and restless movement anticipate numerous tendencies in his later verse. At the same time, it marks a transition from the predominant, though not exclusive, use of lyric, which characterized the collection that is Downstream’s important predecessor, Another September (1958).

This sense of transition is not merely indicative of the development of Kinsella’s poetic career, it is also vividly present as a pretext and motif in the poem itself. The abrupt antilyrical opening of “A Country Walk” is an overture to a world beyond domesticity, the world at large, in effect, with its minute particulars and large abstractions (“Mated, like a fall of rock, with time”). The seeds of these abstractions are minutiae: The actual physical evidence of the locality is so keenly apprehended in its physical presence that only a metaphysical artifact can consolidate the moment of seeing, as the quotation suggests. Walking is not only a means of traversing a given landscape but also a means of going over the various levels for which that landscape stands.

The world beyond “the piercing company of women” is both a natural world and a historical world. Nature offers a nonhuman dimension—flora and fauna—which, ironically, offer human comfort. Almost as soon as the walker sets foot in the natural environment, each step becomes “a drop of peace returning,” and the simplicity of a drink of water is restorative to a degree that he “inch by inch rejoiced.” The poet is careful not to sentimentalize nature, however. The candor of “rejoiced” is at once modified, “Or so it seemed,” and brambles are considered “melancholy.”

Nevertheless, the world of nature, if not...

(The entire section is 783 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The principal gesture in “A Country Walk” is one of comprehensiveness. Stage by stage the poem builds up a complete vision of a world, from the narrowness of stifling domesticity to a perspective on the inspirational evening star, “Hesperusbringing sweet trade”—not that of the commerce abjured in the “open square” sequence but that of poetry, which proposes an adequate rate of exchange between world and consciousness. This act of cultural and existential cartography is carried out with “intensity,” as the poem admits, but is devoid of the schematic or the mechanical.

Such limitations are resisted by a number of means. In the first place, the poem’s intense language must be noted. This language derives its voltage from two sources. One is its unadorned and unqualified honesty: A poem that introduces itself to the reader with the word “sick” is clearly not interested in pulling punches. In addition, the strength of the verbs throughout, together with a willingness to convey a sense of the world’s mundane ugliness, may also be taken as a further example of the completeness of the poet’s hard-hitting commitment to his material. Another source is the language’s visionary appeal, as in the fusion of brutality and courtliness in the Norman warlords, or in the condensed finality of “generations that let welcome fail.” The poem’s language arrests and disturbs the reader in ways that make it an enactment of the...

(The entire section is 422 words.)