Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

Although in “A Wreath for Tom Moore’s Statue” the speaker insists upon the poet’s individuality and originality of creation, Kavanagh himself is aware of the Irish literary tradition before him. Moreover, through a number of overt and subtle allusions to earlier literary works, he not only situates his poem within this tradition, relying upon it as a source of rich and complex imagery, but also builds upon this imagery. For example, James Joyce explores the theme of Dublin’s intellectual decay and spiritual paralysis in his collection of short stories Dubliners (1914) and later in his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).

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In a critical study of Kavanagh’s work and life titled Patrick Kavanagh: Born-Again Romantic (1991), Antoinette Quinn examines the way Kavanagh’s speaker in “A Wreath for Tom Moore’s Statue” builds upon Joyce’s metaphor of Dublin. Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s young artist, views the city as well as Moore’s statue as a symbol of Irish paralysis: “sloth of the body and of the soul” creeps “over it like unseen vermin.” Almost thirty years later, Kavanagh’s speaker alludes to this metaphor but takes it further by giving it clear vision: The nature of the “vermin”—the parasitic, predominantly Catholic, bourgeois class—is identified with great precision. Having lost the republican ideals of pre-independent Ireland and having embraced instead modern standards of popular culture, the Irish bourgeoisie of the 1940’s attempts to silence its national conscience, still heard in the voice of some active literary men, by requiring artists to meet its standards of “lust and logic.”

“A Wreath for Tom Moore’s Statue” contains another, rather subtle, allusion: Its roots lie in the poem “September 1913” by William Butler Yeats, one of the key figures of the Irish literary Renaissance. Although sharing a similar indignation at Irish middle-class culture, its materialistic and commercial attitudes toward Ireland’s Romantic national ideals and art, eventually Kavanagh’s speaker manages to pull himself out of the bitter disillusionment and, having overcome his anger, ends an a constructive, positive note: ”The sense is over-sense. No need more/ To analyse.” Although the dead can no longer defend their ideals and aspirations, for the living there is still hope. Because the Catholic bourgeoisie has desecrated God’s creation, now it is the poet’s mission to save Ireland by an act of active imagination. It is art and literature, therefore, that can produce a purer self, culture, and future.

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