Poets Patrick Kavanagh and Alun Lewis

Dear Reader,

As I was writing this blog I heard on the radio Irish writer Brian Friel Died aged 86 he had a good life. I studied “Translations” at A’ Level English Lit. I enjoyed all his work a very good writer indeed and one who will be missed.

I enjoy reading Patrick Kavanagh and Alun Lewis’s poetry. Both poets wrote about their own landscape in a deep way, they added the human touch to poetry, giving reality of how they saw it through landscape. Alun Lewis and Patrick Kavanagh both left their true place the centre of their universe. Lewis left the village of Cwmamen, at the beginning of the second world war.  He studied History at  Aberystwyth and Manchester. Patrick Kavanagh left the small village of Mucker for London. After 5 months Kavanagh returned home.

“The noise and excitement had passed the roar and the surge of commerce was in my ears for a long time like the after effects of flu. I returned to Ireland green, chaste and foolish. When I wondered over the hills and talked to my own people. I looked into the heart of this life and saw that it was good”

Extract taken from Patrick Kavanagh’s book “The Green Fool”

After the success of “The Green Fool” and despite not liking London. Kavanagh decided to leave Inniskeen for another busy city on par to London, Dublin.

Both poets were published before they left their true homeland, both came from a dying industry, Kavanagh agriculture and Lewis coal mining.

From his poem Innocence

“I cannot die unless I walk outside these white thorn hedges”

Kavanagh ventured beyond the white thorn Hedges, he had to leave his innocence behind to survive as a writer.

I find it incredible that Lewis joined the army 1941 knowing he was a pacifist. He was a socialist and maybe he thought he was doing is bit to fight the nationalist Hitler?

He also married Gwenno Ellis a fellow teacher, he was leaving a wife, a good job, for the Army and knowing he could not kill anyone.

“Yet when all is done you’ll keep the emerald

I placed upon your finger in the street

and I will keep the patches that you sewed

on my old battledress tonight my sweet”

Taken from the poem “Goodbye” and from his selection of poetry  “Ha Ha! Among The Trumpets”

I am part Irish and Welsh bit of Cornish thrown in a true Celt. Yet I am a hibernophile  I love everything Irish I also  believe a united Ireland will be in my lifetime. I too am a published poet author of two collections. I have also written a book  unpublished called “Forbidden Love” is based on a true story of how my grandparents met in Dublin during the Anglo-Irish war and fell in love.

August 2013 I walked part of Donegal, County Antrim and Armagh. I stayed over in Dublin. I called in unannounced at The  Cobblestone pub, Red Cow Lane, the same pub my father  sang in 1957. My Grandmother and her family lived opposite at number 1 Red Cow Lane.

I walked in all tanned and toned with reams of my poetry under my arm. The heat from inside the pub hit me and it was very dark too. A fiddler was playing to a crowd of punters. I made my way to the bar and asked could I read my poetry. I was told the landlord was in Derry (I was in Derry the day before but that is another story) He told me to ask the fiddler and pointed to a kindly face man with strong grey white hair that stuck up.  With half Guinness in my hand  I waited for the fiddler to stop. “Excuse me I come from Wales please can I read my poetry”  “Feck off” he said. I thought looks can be deceiving,  I walked over to my stool and was pleased no one heard what he said and then I thought did I misunderstand what he said after all it was noisy.  Five minutes later I asked again he told me to “Feck off “again. So I positioned my stool to be opposite the fiddler and I glared at him it had no affect. I noticed he was talking to a bloke holding a guitar. I approached the guitarist and said. “Can you tell your friend I am from Wales my granny lived opposite here and my father sang in this pub in 1957 and I would like to read my poetry” I sat on my stool and waited suddenly the fiddler got up and shouted to me “Why the Feck did you not say I thought you were from New South Wales give the girlie the floor”I read and performed four poems, the punters were great, drinks bought for me from New Yorker’s, Spanish, Dutch and Irish. My poem “Story Teller of Ireland” is hanging on a pub wall off the coast of Donegal.

I chose Alun Lewis poem The Mountain over Aberdare” and Patrick Kavanaghs  “Shancoduff  to compare and contrast. Alun Lewis poem “The Mountain over Aberdare” was written while he was in Burma. Patrick Kavanagh’s poem “Shancoduff” was written while he was in Dublin. Distance is good it gives the mind’s eye something to think about. Both poems are named after places that the poets came from and about their community as they saw it. Lewis and Kavanagh use area’s that are the outskirts of their true area of Cwmamen and Mucker.

First 6 lines of Lewis’s poem

“From this high quarried ledge I  see

the place for which the Quakers once

collected clothes my father’s home.

Our stubborn bankrupt village sprawled

in jaded dusk beneath its nameless hills.

The drab streets strung across the Cwm”

The first six lines show charity emptiness misery. Words bankrupt, drab, nameless hills. Yet he mentions his father is home

First 6 lines of Kavanagh’s

“My black hills have never seen the sun rising

Eternally they look north towards Armagh.

Lots wife would not be salt if she had been

Incurious as my black hills that are happy

when dawn whitens Glassdrummond chapel”

Kavanagh’s He personalised the poem my black hills, they look towards Armagh. Lots wife who looked back and was turned to salt. if only she looked forward like Kavanagh’s black hills

Lewis’s shows the down side of his town

“White cheap jack cinema the church

stretched out like a sow beside the stream”

Lewis is Caricaturing his town ie the church like a sow .

Unusual Lewis used Church yet Kavanagh a catholic used the word chapel. In real Valley life chapel was paramount not the church.

Kavanagh

“My hills hoard the bright shillings of March

While the sun searches in every pocket.

They are my Alps and I have climbed the Matterhorn

with a sheaf of hay for three perishing calves

In a field under the Big Forth Rocksavage”.

My initial thought was make hay while the sun shines or is life a struggle

Shillings in March, Lent church hoarding money  while he is poor gaining a sheaf of hay for three pigs, is not a good deal and in a field under Rocksavage, Rocksavage was a wealthy estate that Kavanagh farmed and lived under.

Lewis 

“Till all the upland gorse is drenched

and all the creaking mountain gates

drip brittle tears of crystal peace;

and in a curtained parlour women hug

huge grief and anger against God”

Brings religion into his town and how the women show anger, huge grief of a town that is dying.

“The sleety winds fondle the rushy beards of Shancoduff

while the cattle- drovers sheltering in the Featherna Bush

Look up and say Who owns them hungry hills

that waterhen and snipe must have forsaken?

A poet? Then by heavens he must be poor”

I hear and is my heart not badly shaken?”

There are two questions “drovers ask who owns them hungry hill which  birds have forsaken. A poet? and they answer their question “A poet” The poet Kavanagh he calls the hills “my hills” twice.

” I hear and his my heart not badly shaken”

Kavanagh owns what he sees in this bleak landscape Kavanagh gives beauty to his own reality with his words he embraces all.

Threading through Lewis poem is Christianity

“The colliers squatting on the ashtip

listen to one who holds them still with tales.

While that white frock that floats down the dark ally

Looks like Christ; and in a lane

The clink of coins among the gamblers

Suggest the thirty pieces of silver”

Lewis is saying the town betrayed its self, like Judas betrayed Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Lewis wrote this poem in the Jungle of Burma and was a troubled man in many ways, he had a brief affair in India and he knew his regiment were close to combat. This was difficult for man who knew he could not kill, yet he killed himself with his own pistol.

Last verse

“I watch the clouded years

Rune the rough foreheads of these moody hills.

This evening in a lost age”

Was the marks of time telling on this sensitive soul? Was his judgement clouded by loyalty to his country and his wife was he born in a lost age? Many questions in the last verse.

Kavanagh was an alcoholic and had a near death experience with lung cancer this changed him for ever. I found out later that Kavanagh married Kevin Barry’s niece Kathleen. My Gran witnessed Kevin Barry’s arrest in Dublin.

Lewis had no value of his own life, never gave himself the chance to live but he left us his beautiful poetry. Both poets give us a sense of place. Both poets were different from other poets. Lewis gave us sensitivity towards the hash Valley life and Burma.

Kavanagh does not use the Irish hatred towards the English, he does not use religion or rebellion. He gives us normality of day-to-day life of the parish he came from and Lewis does the same. Both write well on people and place.

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