Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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).

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...

(The entire section is 412 words.)