The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Patrick Kavanagh’s “A Wreath for Tom Moore’s Statue” is a four-verse satire in which the poet voices his anger and disillusionment with the cultural hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, and materialism of post-revolutionary Ireland. Identified with the urban middle classes, Dublin corrupts and stifles the creative originality of its contemporary poets while raising upon a pedestal a false image of the heroic past. This means that Irish society has lost its ideals, joyful vitality, and vision and has reverted its gaze toward idolizing a reusable past, molding and manipulating it so that it fits perfectly the rather insular and practical interests of the rising Catholic bourgeoisie.

The title and the first verse of the poem introduce Thomas Moore, a prominent figure of the Irish cultural and national revival, and use his monument as a tool to satirize the current state of affairs in Ireland. To a certain extent, Moore’s monument comes to represent a horde of national poets and heroes whose achievements are gradually narrowed down to and categorized in one single expression and image. Having petrified and, thus, appropriated them for a cause different from, and even opposite to, their original ones, the Catholic middle class has dishonored these public figures of the past, Kavanagh’s lyric persona claims: “The cowardice of Ireland is in his statue,/ No poet’s honoured when they wreathe this stone.”

Moreover, in doing so, the...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Wreath for Tom Moore’s Statue” is built upon a series of oppressive contrasts, which demonstrate a tendency to develop from immediate and specific to more general images. Thus, it is significant that when the poem was first published in 1944 in The Irish Times, below the original title, “Statue, Symbol, and Poet,” there stood a note saying: “Not concerning Thomas Moore.” To many critics this is an indication that the erection of Thomas Moore’s statue and the subsequent attitudes of the middle class are concrete indications of a more general, ongoing process of cultural backwardness as a result of which the heroic ideals of the past, twisted and corrupted, become subject to public exploitation targeting material gains.

The initial contrast between the dead poet and urban Dublin, represented respectively by the statue and its worshippers, leads through scathing irony to a similarly constructed opposition: the contemporary poet and the Catholic bourgeoisie. In both cases poetic individuality faces “death”: The dead poet’s honor is desecrated through a huckster’s type of worship, while the living poet is physically neglected and forced to become a social outcast. In either case, individuality and human nobility, and especially originality and creative irrationality of thought, are suppressed by utilitarian values and symbols of the modern bourgeois class. It is the wreath that turns Thomas Moore’s statue into one such symbol.

The reader also can feel the undercutting effects of irony in the...

(The entire section is 633 words.)