Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Green Fool is an autobiographical work written soon after the publication of Patrick Kavanagh’s first volume of poetry, Ploughman and Other Poems (1936). Following the critical success of that volume, Kavanagh traveled from the isolated farm where he had lived for more than thirty years to London in the hope of finding a place in the literary world; since a self-taught farmer-poet was a curious figure, a publisher’s editor suggested that he write his autobiography. Having already tried to survive for a short time by writing journalism, Kavanagh seems to have remembered the vow he had made earlier in Dublin: “In future if I was to be exploited, I should do the exploiting myself.” That phrase and the title indicate his ironic attitude toward the narrative he undertook to write. Some critics have suggested that sections of the book are really fiction; at least one chapter has been included in an anthology of Irish short stories. The additional fact that the book was suppressed by its publishers when a libel action was launched by a Dublin doctor alerts the reader to the unusual genre of the book, which shifts between fact and fiction, between the recording of Kavanagh’s actual experiences and the creation of an autonomous world.

Certainly, this narrative has an uneven focus on the self of the writer. It begins with eleven short chapters which evoke the context of his childhood and school years. This picture of country ways is presented with openness and without judgments, and the child’s presence is seemingly integrated with this folk world. Five chapters tell of his years between the ages of twelve and seventeen as a farmer’s helper, during which he learned the hard manual skills of working the land and the crude economic relationships of country people. The next seven chapters present glimpses of him in early manhood, when he became an apprentice cobbler and a part-time farmer for his father. More independent, he took part in republican political activity during the Civil War, but he discovered that he was a shy loner. Chapters 24 to 28 trace the decade of his twenties, when he discovered and nurtured his poetic talent and became more independent as a farmer. The concluding four chapters, which deal with his life in his early thirties, focus largely on his...

(The entire section is 942 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Heaney, Seamus. “The Placeless Heaven: Another Look at Kavanagh,” in The Massachusetts Review. XXVIII (Autumn, 1987), pp. 371-380.

Kavanagh, Peter. Sacred Keeper: A Biography of Patrick Kavanagh, 1984.

Kavanagh, Peter, ed. Patrick Kavanagh: Man and Poet, 1986.

Nemo, John. Patrick Kavanagh, 1979.

Warner, Alan. Clay Is the Word: A Study of Patrick Kavanagh, 1973.