Patrick Kavanagh Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Three fictional autobiographies—The Green Fool (1938), Tarry Flynn (1948), and By Night Unstarred (1977)—are based on the years Patrick Kavanagh (KAV-uh-nuh) spent in County Monaghan. The latter part of By Night Unstarred pursues his life into Dublin. Various prose essays and occasional pieces can be found in Collected Prose (1967) and November Haggard: Uncollected Prose and Verse of Patrick Kavanagh (1971). Kavanagh’s Weekly, a magazine that published thirteen issues between April 12 and July 15, 1952, contains a variety of fiction, commentary, and verse that was written under various pseudonyms but is almost all Kavanagh’s own work (reprinted, 1981). Lapped Furrows: Correspondence, 1933-1967 (1969) and Love’s Tortured Headland (1974) reprint correspondence and other documents between 1933 and 1967. After the poet’s death, his brother Peter edited and published his work, and Peter’s biography, Sacred Keeper (1980), contains a number of previously unpublished or unreprinted documents. Despite the claims of various titles, Kavanagh’s work remains uncollected. A poem (“The Gambler”) was adapted for ballet in 1961, and Tarry Flynn was dramatized in 1966; each was performed at the Abbey Theatre.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Despite handicaps of poverty, physical drudgery, and isolation, Patrick Kavanagh became the leading figure in the “second generation” of the Irish Literary Revival. He practically reinvented the literary language in which rural Ireland was to be portrayed. Bypassing William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Lady Augusta Gregory, he returned for a literary model to a fellow Ulsterman, William Carleton, and to his own experience of country life as a subject. He invested his fiction and poetry with fresh regional humor that did not sentimentalize or condescend to its characters. His vision is fundamentally religious, imbued with a Catholic sacramental view of nature. His various criticisms of Irish life and institutions arise from an unrefined but genuine spirituality. The quality of Kavanagh’s work is uneven, and his public attitudes are inconsistent. Even so, the sincerity of his best work, its confidence in its own natural springs, its apparent artlessness, its celebration of local character, place, and mode of expression, make him the most widely felt literary influence on the poets of contemporary Ireland, most significantly on those with similar backgrounds, such as John Montague and Seamus Heaney.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Agnew, Una. The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh. Blackrock, County Dublin, Ireland: Columba Press, 1998. A critical study of selected works by Kavanagh. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

Garratt, Robert F. Modern Irish Poetry: Tradition and Continuity from Yeats to Heaney. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. The chapter devoted to Kavanagh is divided into four parts: his criticism of the Irish Literary Revival and revisionist reading of William Butler Yeats, his early poetic realism, his poetic rebirth in the “Canal Bank” poems, and the development of his influential poetics of the local and familiar, which influenced the next generation.

Heaney, Seamus. The Government of the Tongue. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. This collection of prose by Kavanagh’s most famous successor contains a lecture in which Kavanagh’s poetry is seen in two stages: the “real topographical presence” of the early poems, followed by the “luminous spaces” of the late poems. The essay shows the importance of Kavanagh for younger Irish poets in the words of one of the best.

Kavanagh, Peter. Sacred Keeper: A Biography of Patrick Kavanagh. The Curragh, Ireland: Goldsmith Press, 1980. This partisan biography by the poet’s devoted brother claims to avoid the lies and...

(The entire section is 417 words.)