Pages of Phil Rogers MRCVS
* 1. KAVANAGH'S THEMES
... and there/ was history in that face/ of the unstable bog, the quaking scraw/ of a defeated race (CP221)
Humanity is a mixture of good and evil, gentleness and brutality. Poetry, if it is to reflect life, must reflect that reality. In its most primitive form, poetry is a celebration of life and death, a vital and dead part of pagan nature-worship: The childhood of the priest cried out: "Beware/ of the evil spell in all poetry" (CP173).
Great themes of poetry include faith/reason; Christianity/paganism; pleasure/pain; birth/death; childhood/old age; growth/decay; change/status quo; creation/destruction; love/hate, work/leisure, joy/loneliness, beauty/ugliness, truth/falsehood, sexuality/self-sacrifice etc. The conflict and tension between opposites has always been part of poetry and life. Other themes are based on current affairs: comment for or against social, religious or political ideals and realities. In that area, comedy and satire can be powerful weapons.
Megalithic men and women, in the spirals and etchings of their stones and caves, had begun to mine the seams of soul for themes of poetry. All the fundamental literary themes have been covered ad nauseam by the early writers. Ignoring all poetry written up to the mid- 1800's, Irish poets in the last 100 years have covered them. There is little new under the sun to be discussed. If writers were to "speak no more/ a thread-worn story" (CP1), there would be few new works of great writing. What distinguishes the work of one poet from that of another is not the theme per se, but the variation on the theme. However, the poet who writes all in one mode (all positive or all negative) comes across as imbalanced, not typical of the people at large.
There are few new themes for new poets, unless they are related to new social or technical developments. A poet is interested in his own private world; he luxuriates in telling the truth... he does not preach (but) makes statements about what is (PK242). A poet writing in 1986 could not write a great, authentic poem on the Enniskillen massacre of November 1987 or the carpet bombing of Baghdad in 1991 but could have written brilliantly of terrorism, murder and sadness based on, for instance, the Dublin bombs of May 1974. Even if the poet was a prophet and could see the most accurate detail in a crystal ball, a poem written before an incident, with which the reader can not share some real identification, would remain a cerebral, unreal poem until after the event.
Great poets handle old themes new ways. They put an individual stamp on them to make the poems uniquely their own:... The poet comes again to build/ a new city high above lust and logic/ the trucks of language overflow and magic/ at every turn of the living road is spilled (CP149). "Sometimes a poet combines something to say with a very exciting way of saying it (i.e.) Gerald Manley Hopkins, Yeats to a lesser extent... The really great poets have combined the two qualities as in the case of Keats, Marlowe, Clare, Blake etc" (LF111).
Poetry should not be read. At worst, it should be read aloud. Ideally, one should be able to relax and listen to it being read by a sensitive reader. Though the poet must write down or type the words, in order to work and rework the poem to its maximum potential, poetry is essentially an aural experience, which should stimulate mental imagery, especially visual. Niceties such as the structure, internal craft, rhythm and rhyme (if any) can be studied from the written word later: There is a terrible power in the spoken word, the flash of manic eyes, that raises us above the drab mundane. We see stars through our ears.
K (Patrick Kavanagh) was a very conservative man, rather shy, formidable, rude, soft-hearted and gentle. He longed to be esteemed. He never used a course expression nor gave scandal to young people. His manners were old-fashioned and punctilious... but once, in Grafton St., he looked very poorly... his shirt was stained with dried vomit... (John Kilfeather in SK239-243). His background and life were paradoxical mixtures of mental exhilaration and frustration, of physical and mental hunger, and of over-indulgence in self-righteousness and alcohol. To a very large extent, his themes were based on his own experiences or those of people close to him. The Jesuit saying: "Give us the boy and we'll return the man" could be applied to K, although he was not a Jesuit boy.
K's mother's family "was the usual family of the time, living in a thatched hovel on the edge of starvation" (PK21). His mother had 10 children. He (1904) was the fourth child and Peter (1916) was ninth (PK61).
K was born into a very impoverished family and resented that (SK16). The house was a thatched cabin, built in 1791 (PK61). K left national school in 1916, at the age of 12 (SK22). "After majoring in kicking ragball, he retired from formal schooling... and devoted most of his time to roaming over the local lanes and fields" (PK24). "Sure, he went as far as Miss Cassidy could put him, and that's good enough for any man." (GF88). By that time, he had read extracts of the classical poets in his schoolbooks and he began to write schoolboy verse: he took to the poeming, having decided that he was going to be a bard (SK28). For as long as Peter can remember, K wrote verse, spending at least an hour a day at it (SK25).
Young K was as lazy a boy who ever slept on a headland of a June afternoon (SK43). His early moral training was rigid and very orthodox/conservative. He grew into a straight man, a parochial poet, well qualified to be so. He spent his first 26 years on the family farm and he returned there time and again through his life. His distinction between the parochial and the provincial is clear: Provincial worries over what others think/ parochial doesn't care (CP347). The parochial mind is never in any doubt about the social and artistic validity if its parish. All great civilisations are based on parochialism... (PK132).
K was naive and unquestioning in his early twenties. His main theme was his parish, his people, his religion and nature (Sections 5-7, 23-27). O'Loughlin stated that K, in his religious, political and social beliefs... always remained a Monaghan small farmer and fitted uneasily into a "bohemian" literary life:... Who owns them hungry hills/ that the water-hen and snipe must have forsaken? (CP13). That was true of K's earlier life but from the late 1940's onward, K was less naive, more experimental and self-questioning. As discussed later, his religious beliefs turned through full circle.
K was the great poet of the Irish mundane. Daily life is about food/ hunger, shelter/wasteland, pleasure/pain, joy/sorrow. It is about birth, growth, sexuality, decay and death, i.e. it embraces the great poetic themes. Although "it was remarkable how much Greek wisdom (his) Celtic pen knew" (CP299), he seldom alluded to classical Greco-Roman literature and myth and when he did, there was no pretentiousness. K never suffered from abortive ideas of sophistication (Kennelly): Was this the river Styx?/ And the old man in shirtsleeves with a shovel, Charon,/ or only Michael McCabe (CP172).
K was a visionary and a black comedian (Kennelly). He penned stark realistic or surrealistic pictures of daily life in Ireland, especially of the rural life in county Monaghan. His themes were not new, merely Irish/ Monaghan versions, with universal import. He handled them in a unique way, a powerful mixture of bleakness and joy, harshness and compassion, black humour and childish simplicity. Despite his bohemian ways, K is the most Catholic and universal poet that Ireland has yet produced (Kevin McEneaney in PK281).
For K, a Poet's journey is the way "from the simplicity of going away to simplicity of return" (SK350; CP347). Kennelly contrasts the naive simplicity of K's early poems with the knowing simplicity of the seer, through lonely growth in wisdom and imagination (O'Loughlin), so evident in his final works. Garratt also stressed these developments. K said (late in life): "In the final simplicity we don't care whether we appear foolish or not" (SK350). We must follow our star, come what may.
His first 15 verses were published in the Irish Weekly Independent between August 1928 and June 1929 (Nemo). His first recognition as a serious poet was when three of his poems were published in the Irish Statesman: THE INTANGIBLE (1929) and PLOUGHMAN and DREAMER 1930 (LF; Nemo). That was before his long walk to Dublin "in the slack period (after the crops were sown)" in 1930 (LF10). Some mystics go into the wilderness to find them-selves. K had to hoof it from the wilderness of Monaghan for the greater wilderness of Dublin to find himself. The journey took three days (GF222). He begged food and money along the way. He was 26 years old and ignorant of city ways but hungry to meet the gods and demigods of the literary circle.
The trip enabled him to make contact with AE and some of the great writers of the time. Through AE he acquired a collection of contemporary poetry and prose, including books by Dostoevsky, Emerson, Hugo, Melville, George Moore, Frank O'Connor, Liam O'Flaherty, Plato, James Stephens, the Japanese Mahata Sargu and Walt Whitman (LF10; GF222-231;SK48). He does not mention it but it is likely that he brought some of Yeats' books when he returned to Monaghan. He also borrowed the works of Keats, Milton, Pope and Shelley from friends and from the Dundalk library (Nemo). Two of his favourite books were Moby Dick and Gil Blas (SK48). One of the first books he borrowed there was Eliot's THE WASTE LAND. AE read him Whitman and Emerson but he disliked both. However, he recognised that he and Whitman had a lot in common:... an army of grass blades were at his call, million and million/ kept saying to him we nearly made Whitman a poet (CP316)
The dates of PLOUGHMAN and the Dublin walk are critical. In his novel, the GREEN FOOL, K said: "Verse-writing was getting a grip on me... Of Yeats I had not heard... Yeats, A.E., Colum, Stephens and all that crowd, if their names ever came through the dense wall of prejudice to us, would have been just a gang of evil men who were out for the destruction of the Catholic Faith". (GF190)
Garratt infers that Yeats influenced K in his early poems and that he plagiarised ideas from Pope and Swift for some of his satirical poems. There is no such thing as a well-read poet who does not pick up some ideas from other poets. (The only poets who can be proven innocent of plagiarism are the primitives who have not read or heard or seen the work of others). As mentioned above all the Great Themes were discussed ad nauseam by other poets. In his later work, K may well have been familiar with Yeats but Garratt's example of K's plagiarism (THE PLOUGHMAN 1930) is invalid. That poem was published before his Dublin walk and before he had studied Yeats. (Section 4 and GF page 190).
As mentioned in the Preface, more than 80% of my verse was written before I had studied K but I have no doubt that some critics will accuse me of plagiarising him. Apparently, Garratt does not accept that there is nothing as powerful as an idea that has reached its Time. It is well known that two or more groups of scientists often come up independently with the same basic discovery and at about the same time and that observers in different generations can observe the same phenomena independently of their literary forebears. Forgive me a wry smile. K would have chuckled at my predicament and a Zen Master would ask why do I cling to my identification with useless words. The simple answer is that I, unlike K, have not yet reached Enlightenment.
K scourged others but he applied the flagellum frequently to his own back also (Sections 4 and 22). He held a mirror in front of his own face and did not shrink from the dishevelled image which stared back at him from jaundiced eyes, deep in dehydrated sockets. Although he claimed that he hated drink (LF46), he became a heroic whiskey drinker between 1948 and '53. K inferred that Irish ignorance, hypocrisy and begrudgery drove him to drink, as a means of alleviating his pain and isolation and forgetting his poverty. Alcoholic dependency for the last 14-17 years of his life contributed to his death and reduced his output of work at his most mature, potentially his most productive period (Section 19).
After 1930, K was familiar with the work of Walt Whitman, who had covered the day-to-day life of ordinary Americans in great detail in the latter part of the 1800s. Whitman was a great poet of the American mundane. One also wonders why it took so long after Whitman for a Kavanagh to emerge in Ireland. I suggest that most Irish Catholic poets of the day, who knew of Whitman's unconventional poetic style and his much publicised homosexual orientation, were wary of being influenced by him, or even of being seen to be influenced by him. Senator David Norris's historic success in the EC Court of Human Rights was more than 50 years down the road. Even that success had little impact on current Irish opinion, as in 1991, a poll indicated that a majority of Irish citizens were against decriminalisation of homosexual activity.
In 1937, K went to London for a few months, where he lodged at a shelter for down-and-outs (SK57-58). There he began the GREEN FOOL but, short of money, he soon had to return to Dublin. The book was published in 1938 but was killed at once by Oliver Gogarty, who sued K for libel (SK59). He returned to London in 1938 where two middle-aged unattractive women housed and fed him, and bought his first typewriter for him (SK63). After he made passes at their waitress (1939), he was sent packing, minus the typewriter. He returned to Dublin (SK67) and Inniskeen.
In 1939 he left the farm for good and tried to break into the Pale clique. He was 35 years old, single and hungry for recognition. He arrived in Dublin, still a culchie. He was a naive outsider, unskilled in playing diplomatic games by coy rules. He did not know it then, but he had no hope of becoming accepted. He was a peasant in his youth and revelled in the idea of being a peasants' poet, an image that he was to regret. In his Self Portrait K said that his coming to Dublin from his watery hills beside the Border "was the worst mistake of my life" (SK347, PK186). He had to endure "the daily spite" of that "unmannerly town" (Kennelly). His rejection by his peers made him bitter and defensive. He became anti-clerical (Section 7) and cynical (Sections 11-18) in middle-life. He subscribed to the idea that attack is the best means of defence, as he attacked his peers with vigour. The establishment banished him to the literary desert. This caused him great pain (Section 12). Because of his rejection, there were few bidders for his work other than his woman friends (Section 16).
From May 1942, K had a part-time job, writing editorial/feature slots for The Standard, a pseudo-Catholic Weekly (PK405). Nearly always broke, K depended on others for subsistence until 1943 when for the first time, at 37 years old, he was able to survive on his own earnings (SK122). That did not last long. Later, for 3 years (February 1946 to July 1949), K held down the only steady job he was ever given: film critic for The Standard (which by now had become a Catholic Weekly). Peter, the Sacred Keeper, had elevated the status of the paper, which gave his brother a job (PK416). The salary was IR 4 (PK421) or IR 6/week (SK122).
While writing in The Standard, under watchful episcopal eyes, K muted the expression of his truths, especially on the Church and the Poets (PK405). He wrote gently pious articles (PK405), conservative I-RCC cant (... the short-cut to the soul of Ireland is via Rome... PK406) and prophetic views on trashy films: "God help tomorrow's world if it is going to be anything like the chaos, the jungle of sex-appeal, without literature, without art or without religion which is being created for the simple uneducated by Hollywood" (SK137). K was still dreaming in the Celtic Twilight at the time. He did not wake up from and banish that dream until 1947 (PK408).
There is some confusion as to who gave K the jobs with The Standard. He got one from the editor, Peter Curry, in 1945 (SK134). He resigned in 1947 (a critical turning point, when K began to write more honestly) but continued part-time as film critic until 1949 (SK135). K considered it an undemanding job. He regarded the film industry to be empty of any kind of intelligence (PK418). Many would agree with K on that, even more so today. Peter said that K got the job as film critic from Archbishop Walsh of Tuam. In 1942, 4 years earlier, K had praised Dr. Walsh (Peter says innocently; I suspect judiciously) in an unParnassian article on a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick written in The Standard (PK405). That organ of calendar-controlled upright Catholic Irishry lost its power to penetrate the minds of thinking Irish youth through the love-ins of the rocking 60's and open 70's. It collapsed finally in 1978 (PK447). Some may mourn its passing. Not me. I understand why K half-whistled a few harmless "Come-All-Ye"s and milk-maids' ditties rather than blast out his best tunes in plain chant on the Warpipes while he wrote for The Standard (See Section 7).
In February 1947, M.J. McManus wrote:...one has the impression of a man chiselling at something that is granite in himself and producing poetry that is almost frightening (PK431). By the end of 1947, K had turned his back on the Celtic Twilight (SK171). By attacking it fiercely (1947-1951) in poetry and prose he destroyed his economic base and drove himself still further into poverty and isolation (SK172). His PADDIAD (1949) was his most savage satire on the mediocre standard of Irish art and letters (as he saw it). "Most of the verse written in this land suffers from only one thing- the writers have nothing to say..." (SK213). As he intensified his Desert Storm on the Usurpers, K was writing magnificent stuff and getting some good reviews (PK431). He knew that he would pay the price for both insults to the Establishment. He worshipped the insatiable Goddess of his truths. He did not love himself enough (or maybe loved himself too much) to care for the consequences. Ironically, he wrote in later life: I have nothing to announce/ on any subject/ yet once I was full of anger... (CP307)
Envoy, a literary monthly, was published in 20 issues from December 1949 to July 1951. K now had a regular outlet for serious criticism of Irish life; he wrote a diary in each issue (PK409-411). After Envoy folded, K had nowhere to publish his views. In 1952, he was on the verge of starvation and was isolated totally. No newspaper, no magazine would touch him (PK80).
Peter, who had returned from America with 3000-4000 dollars (PK80, 122), sunk his savings into setting up Kavanagh's Weekly for which both brothers wrote almost all the verse and commentary (SK247-248; PK80). The first issue (April 10th), 3000 copies, hit the streets on April 12th 1952. The editorial was: "Victory of Mediocrity". The central core was: "... As with sin, mediocrity is never pernicious until we begin to call it statesmanship and common sense" (PK124, 411).
Kavanagh's Weekly had to fold that summer (July 5th) after only 13 issues. Peter tried to put a good face on the closure, claiming that they had said all they wanted to say (PK121). Peter's savings had run out, no other supporting cash was forthcoming and the articles had stirred up so much dust that both brothers felt it was wise to leave town, K to London to write and Peter to America to replenish his cash (SK247-261; PK80, 122).
The Weekly was subversive dynamite, the precursor of today's Semtex. It was primed and exploded by two truth-crazed commandos. Its epicentre was 62 Pembroke Road, Dublin:... its echoes still reverberate / to the islands offshore./ The fallout will not be swept/ under cosy carpets any more./ From the Inish-vickillaun to Aran,/ Clew to Mullaghmore, Rathlin to Rockall,/ Strangford to The Bull, The Hook,/ Cobh to Cahirciveen the dust still rises (OTMH).
At that time, the Irish media tended to be selectively blind to the sacred cows that piss-patted, bespattered our streets, or, if they fouled up too badly, had to beat them sternly with velvet-covered thongs or feather dusters. Kavanagh's Weekly was an irreverent medium for no-holds-barred comment on middle-class values, the Establishment, mediocrity in all its disguises, art, literature, tourism, economics, politics, the social morass, materialism, religion, education, emigration, which was running at 40,000 per year at the time. (In 1989, the figure was not much better, about 30,000). The Weekly also carried many of K's old and new verses and guaranteed that neither Patrick nor Peter would receive national honours in the foreseeable future (at that time) (SK247-261).
Sacred cows were hunted down, cornered, hit between the eyes, hooked by the hamstrings and butchered with precision and skill in harsh daylight. The uncompromising commentaries of the brothers set the scene for the open-style, critical journalism of the '60s onwards. Gay Byrne, Pat Kenny, Marian Finucane, Andy O'Mahony, Olivia O'Leary, Gerry Ryan et al were at various stages from the soother to pimple-popping at the time. Open-ended discussion of politico-socio-religious issues are now the norm. Gay Byrne's "Bishop and the Nightie" interview caused uproar in its day than the revelations of the Bishop Casey affair in 1992. Now people question "authority", looking straight into the eyes of the official. They want to know what, why and who is involved in public issues.
The media now dissect issues such as phone taps, disremembered phone calls, ministerial incompetence or involvement in junkets or pocket-lining activities; the extent of Church-State collusion; clerical errors; mental illness; suicide, euthanasia by consent; incest, child abuse and rape; the pros and cons of surrogate motherhood, virgin birth (human artificial insemination, embryo-transfer), divorce, abortion, contraception, condoms for kids; the needs and hopes of bi-, homo-, trans- and hetero- sexuals; safe sex re AIDS and venereal disease etc. Phone-in radio programmes now feature good-Catholic-mother-of-sixes who discuss their husbands' obsessions for their frillies; solid middle-aged males who bemoan their jellied conjugal performance; twitchy psychiatrists who advise others on coping with stress etc. Dermot Morgan's satirical radio show "Scrap Saturday" was probably the most savage commentary on Irish life in 1990-1991. It was not just close to the bone; it sucked the marrow and spat out the indigestible.
Public discussion of such topics was unthinkable in the '50s (MM92) until the Kavanagh commandos stormed onto intellectual desert. From then on, whether hidden deep in religious bunkers, exposed in shallow political foxholes or cocky in the tanks of the imperial guard of commerce, no troops are safe from missile attack. Were K writing today, he would probably make the media his prime target. He would blast the hype, the sensationalism and the transience of the contrived.
K's iconoclastic stance was sincere. He considered much contemporary work to be untruthful (for instance Moore's melodies) or to be inferior to his own. He regarded his contemporaries as a crowd of jostling nobodys, desiring to be somebodies: "The problem was solved in Ireland by diluting the Pierian Spring one part in ten thousand lies" (PK260).
Although K grew to reject the Celtic Twilight and he disagreed with the romanticism in Yeats' poetry, he classed him among the top four Irish writers: "There have been, besides myself, only two or possibly three good (Irish) writers, Joyce, Yeats, O'Casey" (LF159). But he trod on too many toes, broke too many written and unwritten rules of the Club; on the sacred cows which he reprieved from the knife, he used the ashplant roundly- there was no hydrodare piping in those days.
Although K adopted a degree of stage Irishry in some of his own work, especially TARRY FLYNN, completed in 1947 (LF120), he was a difficult man to please at the best of times and he abhorred the stage-Irish portrayal of Irish life and values (Garratt). K himself regarded TARRY FLYNN as the only authentic account of life as it was lived in Ireland (at the time) (PK185).
Through Envoy and Kavanagh's Weekly, he made many enemies because of his flamboyant chauvinism, his bleakness and negativity (Sections 13, 17, 18) and because he refused to compromise on his idea of art and poetry. In 1950, he wrote: "I have infuriated and will continue to, all the hateful people" (LF153). His rejection by the establishment was predictable: few buck the system, least of all an outsider who graduated from the University of Kednaminsha and whose doctorate was in the Open University of Life.
In October 1952, 3 months after Kavanagh's Weekly folded, the long-goaded, blade-gelded Establishment exploded against the brothers. The Leader printed an unsigned article: A Profile of Mr. Patrick Kavanagh (PK81, 141). Its views were not much to their liking. They were offended and K sued for libel. Heard in the High Court by jury, the case began on February 3rd 1954. Cross-examined mercilessly for 10 days by John A. Costello (later Taoiseach), K broke under the strain (PK81, 141). He lost the case on February 13th. Costello indicated that costs (against K) were likely to be heavy (PK154).
K appealed for a new trial to the Supreme Court. The appeal, heard by 5 judges, began on November 17th and ended on November 26th. Judgement was reserved (two judges for dismissal of the appeal and three for a retrial). On March 4th 1955, reserved judgement was given, allowing K's appeal, with costs (PK155, 156, 433). He was in hospital at the time. A month later, on March 31st, he had a complete pulmonectomy for lung cancer. The wounded Establishment, also cancerous but unaware of it, made some appropriate noises and washed its hands, like Pilate, and burned the bloody linen.
There was no retrial. A settlement was reached on May 24th. The terms were not disclosed. the brothers had won a Pyrrhic victory (PK156). The case had cost them dearly, financially and emotionally. They had to raise funds through The Appeal Fund Committee (PK433). During the 2.5 years since The Leader's article, the emotional trauma and stress involved in the fierce litigation undoubtedly impaired K's immune system and probably reawakened his lung cancer.
In later life, K softened, to become more tolerant of others but more morally conservative and more formally religious. He had learned late in life that the best defence is no defence and he bore no grudge against his opponents- they, too, had their destinies (SK349).
K, the Poet, was reborn after his operation. His rebirth was on the Canal bank (PK82). Between 1955 and 1967, he got some recognition at home and abroad. After his cancer surgery in 1955, K was appointed as an extra-mural lecturer in UCD at IR 400/year. They did not expect the old Warrior to last long. They were wrong (SK287).
He was invited to lecture in America in 1956. He latched on to the recently established Farmer's Journal and had a column in that paper from 1958, at IR 6/week (SK330, PK421). Peter's comments are enlightening as regards the chauvinism and arrogance of both brothers: "After three years he gave it up. He was tired of writing down to the farmers and pretending he was one of them when in truth he was the most sophisticated of persons... In April 1963 Patrick was able to switch over to the RTV Guide (Magazine of the Irish TV Industry). He was very weary, even disgusted... having to write for the Farmer's Journal... (the) RTV Guide had a slightly more literate readership" (PK422). There are dilemmas in K's statements that poets must write for themselves but must have an audience also... Mystics in the world but not of it again, but tinged with the weakness and strength of survival of all humanity: self-hate and self-love. I understand this all too well. In other ways, it is my lot also.
In 1960, Longmans published 35 of his verses as Come Dance with Kitty Stobling. It won the poetry society award (SK330). He was selected as a judge in the Guinness Poetry awards in 1959-1961 and gave lectures and readings on RTE (SK). From 1963 to his death he had a weekly column in the RTV Guide, which gave him scope to express his true self on a very wide range of trivial and more interesting topics (SK358, PK425). In 1966, RTE made a documentary film on his life.
K (1904-1967) had no formal education other than Kednaminsha Primary School. He said that he was a self-made man and that his education came late: A simple man arrived in town,/ lover of letters;/ more than that/ a true believer in the mystical/ power of poets (CP226)
... it's hard work at Experience's college (CP325)
I lacked a classic discipline. I grew/ uncultivated and now the soil turns sour (CP335)
I wish I'd grabbed an education early/... I grabbed an education late but barely (CP339)
He denied that he felt discomfort or inferiority complex because of his lack of formal education (SK222) but his self-destructive behaviour and many negative references to himself indicates that he had a poor self-image (Sections 4, 12, 13, 19).
He was perversely proud of his parochial background and his humble roots:... I am, as Napoleon said, my own ancestors (CP28)
O Monaghan hills when is writ your story/ a carbon copy will unfold my being (CP32)
... lost is the man who thinks that he can scorn/ his parish mother's paps. The greatest sage/ may not reject his people's heritage (CP248)
I don't care what Chicago thinks, I am blind/ to college lectures and the breed of fakes (CP348)
But, even the sophisticated world is a conglomerate of parishes. Parochial poetry is not to be sneered at- it is much more valid to the ordinary five-eighth than the airy-fairy, literary elitism so beloved of many academics. Many aspiring poets, and some published ones, will never be great in the eyes of the ordinary reader because they are conscious or unconscious liars or they write obscure, esoteric (cloak and dagger) poetry. Their poetry is not rooted in experience, their own or their readers:... O for a country .../ where every arty fraud is jeered/ where shines no movie star-/ the ancient fields where God is feared/ and men are what they are (CP28)
K returned often to the theme of the big house of Yeats and the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, which he pretended to despise. But he would have been delighted to visit them, if they would have been sensitive enough to recognise his genius. He visited Lord Dunsany, a loyal supporter, and he inscribed the Cuala Press edition of GREAT HUNGER for him (SK245). He also played cricket for Sir John Mahaffey's eleven (Warner 1973).
In contrast to Yeats and the romantics, K painted stark, harsh pictures of the mental, spiritual and material poverty, dirt and suffering of the poor. He placed a very high value on truth. He despised academic theory or posturing: Do not awake the academic scholars... (CP23). O'Loughlin points out that he was one with his material and that he wrote from personal experience and not from academic or romantic fantasy: No truth oppresses (CP106). However, he also recognised a strong romantic tendency in himself (Sections 8-10 ): He will not take the world as it runs/ I fear he will suffer for his denial/ of what is (CP232).
Although he had a sneaking respect for great sinners and chided Yeats for not being one- Ah cautious man whom no sin depraves... (CP348)- he was Christ in the Temple in his flagellation of the pseudo, the abuse of authority by some churchmen of the day, the conventions-kept-for-their-own-sake (Section 11).
K reacted violently against the mediocrity and inherent dishonesty of romanticism of the earlier Irish poets and balladeers of the early 20th century (Section 11). "The Protestants had invented Irish Literature as a sort of national religion and they were shy about letting Catholic outsiders in on the jag" (LF46). In Self-Portrait, K claimed that the Irish Literary Movement was a thoroughgoing English-bred lie. He also admitted that he fell under its spell in his early life (PK185). Through the 1940s and early '50s he made antirevivalism his goal and sought to take on the whole literary establishment (Garratt). Yeats had lived in the clouds, cushioned from the harsher aspects of reality by his ascendancy friends and his retreats to the great houses of Sligo: Yes, Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected/ by the middle classes and the Big Houses... (CP349)
K tried to avoid the forms and themes sanctified as "classical" by writers in the early part of the century- nostalgia for lost greatness, lost language, allusions to Irish mythology of the Fianna, Queen Maebh etc. Other themes which he avoided or castigated were the romanticisation of Irish life, acceptance of he Big House and its values as the centre of all our culture and worthwhile endeavour. But he could not escape completely from the past. The present depends on the past. He referred occasionally to historical realities, like the 1840's famine. The exploitation, rape and oppression of Ireland by invaders and landlords over eight centuries explained the fatalism and servility of the Irish peasant. The fact that times have changed does not take from K's claim that servility and fear of the landlord class can be traced to the treatment of peasants by that class in the past:... I can tell you what I am/ servant girls bred my servility:/ when I stoop/ it is my mother's mother mother's mother/ each in turn being called to spread-/ "wider with your legs" the master of the house said./ Domestic servants taken back and front.../... Domestic servants, no one has told/ their generations as it is, as I/ show the cowardice of the man whose mothers were whored/ by five generations of capitalist and lord (CP117-118)
Yeats would not have acknowledged that fact. He would have portrayed peasants as simple souls, content with their "stations in life", happy in their work, with males pulling their forelocks and females curtsying in respect as the gentry passed. K's horrific claim of the rape of peasant women by some of the ruling classes may seem preposterous to modern readers, especially those from urban backgrounds. But the Droit de Seigneur existed in Ireland until the end of the last century. There is a story in Roscommon about a girl who refused the landlord his traditional "right". For her trouble, she was abducted. Her arms and legs were tied with ropes to four horses that were whipped to a gallop in different directions; she was ripped apart because she said no.
K lived in a very different world from mine. His world was rooted in the infant Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, isolated from the rest of Europe, a third-world country struggling to find her economy/identity after 800 years of serfdom and her hard-won recent independence. My world is rooted the post-war era, the growth of Irish prosperity and inflation through the 60's and 70's, our ambivalent membership of the EC, with all its benefits and headaches, and the rapid move towards a more European, if not international, image and lifestyle.
K wrote in the present (or the recent past), to describe reality, warts and all:... here in this nondescript land/ everything is secondhand:/ nothing ardently growing,/ nothing coming, nothing going/ tepid fevers, nothing hot/ nothing alive enough to rot (CP235)
We live in the land of wrecks; of plundered tombs, unexcavated cairns; of torn phone-books and dead phones; of twisted metal desecrating woodland, moor and fertile fields; shrapnel in the eyelids of our potholed roads; the land of politicians banking three pensions to quilt in Euro-down the nests of cuckoo squabs; the land of dole queues, nixers, extradition writs, west brits and the nod's as good as a wink... (R/PALE KATHLEEN).
In 1971, I had the privilege of working with a true-blue Dubliner, Frank Raymond. As a young man, Frank was employed as a farmhand in the now defunct Agricultural Institute. He fearless with cattle. He could catch, nose and subdue the wildest beasts in a loose yard, using a lasso, if necessary. He was invaluable as a member of our veterinary team.
One day we went to blood-test cattle on an estate outside Navan. The estate was home for one of the Great Houses of the Pale. It was run by a retired Lieutenant Colonel who had served in the British Army in India. The old boy was genial and a good employer, with a large work-force of Catholic farmhands. He sported the classical handlebars moustache and dressed in tweeds. It was the custom for the men to line up in the large quadrangle for inspection at 8 a.m. and at quitting time in the evening. The pealing of the old bell in the quadrangle was the signal for inspection, which was a fairly peremptory affair but always ended by the men saluting the Master by touching the forelock.
Although the old boy was a Protestant, he had the bell rung at noon. At that time, the men would stop work for a minute or two, remove their caps and say the Angelus or merely relax until the others were finished saying theirs. The signal to go back to work was- you guessed it- a touching of the forelock before the caps were put back on.
We had been taking blood samples from the cattle for a few hours when the Angelus bell rang. Frank was wearing his usual woollen cap, an old tattered brain-warmer but his favourite. He had been nosing cattle efficiently and quietly all morning but had given the old boy odd penetrating stares when he raised his voice to any of the men. Work stopped at the bell.
Some of us took out our pipes or cigarettes. Frank lit up with me. When the other men were done praying, they saluted the Master as usual. Frank jerked, as if electrocuted, swore savagely and threw his cap on the ground. He walked out to the station-wagon, saying over his shoulder to me: "Master my arse. Fuck that! This is some Republic!"
I gave him a few minutes to cool off, picked his cap out of the mire and went out to the car to try to coax him back. He gave me a wicked smile and said I'd have to make do without him. Nothing would change his mind. I grinned back at him and gave him the ignition keys so that he could listen to the radio. Frank left our Institute some time later, to work privately with his brother in the haulage business. I have not seen him for years but I have no doubt he is highly successful.
K would have been pleased with Frank's response but might have disagreed with mine. (I went back to finish the blood testing without Frank). In his Self Portrait, he said: "In Meath... there was servility with a vengeance. A chap was telling me that when the gentry who owned this particular place went on holidays... the three dogs used to make up to himself... and the butler. When the gentry came back the dogs cut the labourers dead. How terrible to be insulted by a pack of dogs.... I am sure that the men who went out in 1916 redeemed the honour of the common Irishman.... There were such things as ladies as distinct from women. "Don't you know that I'm a Lady?" said one of these women to some school-children who hadn't saluted. It was all quite ludicrous".
In 1952, K wrote: "We came to the wake that has been going on uproariously for at least thirty years and at the moment we are trying to get the family to remove the corpse- the corpse of 1916, the Gaelic language, the inferiority complex- so that the house may be free for the son to bring in a wife" (PK129). In 1941, he wrote a description of a parade in Dublin to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1916 insurrection: Young people are doing their best to mask that Long Miserable Face which somehow seems to be the sign of holy things (PK404). Fifty years on, on the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising those comments are still valid. Some of our misguided compatriots put more store on that event than on the Easter Resurrection which preceded it by nearly two millennia. The Easter Rising of 1916 still brings death and destruction. That of 0033 still brings life and hope.
You can't keep a good man down. Though rejected by the pundits of his day, K's work was accepted posthumously by ordinary people. When an Irish person says: "sure what would I know, I'm only an ordinary five-eighth", you had better be on guard. The native cunning and wit of the Irish often sees through pseudo-intellectual facades. In Cavan and Monaghan, in Dublin slums and pubs, K's poems are learned and recited. Mention him today and the most unlikely people (especially those whose roots are in parts of Ireland classified as disadvantaged or marginal areas) will prick up their ears and move over to join in the conversation. His ballad RAGLAN ROAD is so popular that it is regarded as common property and many who know the song could not name its author.
Were it not for Peter's financial and moral support all through K's life and for his role as Sacred Keeper after his death (see Preface), K the man and poet would probably have drunk himself to death long before 1967. Some of the best commentaries on Irish life from 1920's to the 1960's would not have been published and Ireland would have one international poet less.
* 2. THE RHYMING BARD
And now close all books/ of piety and knowledge./ It is a little thing that one can learn/ in Rhymer's College (CP35)
K called himself a rhymer, a bard. He confined himself mainly to rhyming poetry: The rhyme's the thing, I assure you I will stake/ my reputation on this most plain assertion... (CP319)
Many poets would disagree with this assertion. Communication is one of the basic aims of poetry and another major aim is economy of words. It is very difficult to use rhyme (or even half-rhyme) to express one's imagined or experienced raw truths in poetic form and also retain the syntax and vocabulary of common speech and the authentic ideas in the most economic form. Too often, rhyme is forced, the first or second part of the couple obviously dragged in for the sake of the rhyme rather than for reason. In other cases, rhyme makes the poem predictable or trite or reduces its impact to the level of mediocre ballad or doggerel: Humpty Dumpty let out a wail./ Humpty Dumpty yanked out the nail./ Pricked in the bollocks, he knew it would be/ sick to solicit the hand of Marie (OTMH)
Free verse and flexible rhythms allow much more freedom of expression that fixed formats. Rhyme and fixed metre may lead to verbosity- the insertion of unnecessary words to fit the rhyme/rhythm.
It takes a master to use rhyme to full effect and to avoid the pitfalls. In much of K's poetry, however, the rhyme was most skilful: To be a poet and not know the trade,/ to be a lover and repel all women;/ twin ironies by which great saints are made,/ the agonizing pincer-jaws of heaven (CP25)
However, K weakened the impact of much of his work by confining himself mainly to rhyme. The rhymes were often forced, so much so that they descended to the worst kind of doggerel in places (Kennelly and Garratt), although K himself said: My verse though light I hope is not/ a trivial thing facetious or/ inclined to doggerel at times (CP300)
It is a pity that he put so much importance on rhyme. His international reputation as an poet could have been even better if he had not that view. He often made up words or introduced irrelevant concepts to fit a selected rhyme-scheme. Garratt found his obsession with rhyme to be tedious.
His rhythms and line lengths varied from short to long runs. Some of his juvenilia had repetitive, monotonous 14- or 15-beat marathons, which also managed to illustrate the worst of K: I looked on Bobby Chapman as he lay full length in bed,/ I looked at him, and puzzled like I scratched my mighty head./ And I says, it's mighty hard to know the working of your brain,/ so I'll lave you where you are, until we meet some day again (CP369)
The juvenilia of any poet may be awful. But in his later work, K sank occasionally to that level again: The theme here invented/ and by me patented/ psychology bended/ is about a poor hero/ who gambled on zero/ there's no rhyme but Nero (CP308)
I must be content with the roses/ but sitting in deck-chairs Holy Moses!/ University girls here in roly-poses (CP315)
I have my friends, my public and they are waiting/ for me to come again as their one and only bard/ with a new statement that will repay all the waitment/ while I was hitting the bottle hard (CP349)
Those poems were written c. 1960-63, long after he had proved that he could write marvellous poetry. Therefore, I give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute their awful style (grammar/rhyme/syntax) to wilful black comedy, directed at himself (Section 22).
Apart from rhyme, other fixed formats (stanzas of fixed numbers of lines etc) can be straight-jackets which bind the expressive arms of the nervous Muse. Poems whose length are predetermined (the sonnet, haiku etc) may be ideal formats for a few central ideas but they limit the expansion of themes into more complex issues which the poet may wish to address. Clarke could have written a fourteen-liner on mental illness but it is unlikely that it could have had such impact as his long poem Mnemosyne lay in Dust. Kennelly could have condensed his Cromwell into a Haiku but would it have been as effective as the current version?
... and three whin bushes rode across/ the horizon- the Three Wise Kings (CP144)
K's greatness as a poet lies in the language and imagery used to portray the drudgery and joys of day-to-day life and in the range of themes and mundane problems, which he examined.
... a swan goes by head low with many apologies (CP295)
K "is the only great modern poet who never wrote an obscure poem. He recognised that, in most cases, obscurity is... a failure of the... imagination, the sanctuary for the inadequate" (Kennelly). I agree: If poets write for people,/ not for intellectual elite,/ their language must be clearly understood/ or may as well be scratched/ in Ogham strokes (R/POETRY FOR THE PEOPLE).
K used the language and idioms of the people:... cloaking a burning emotion/ in the rags of the commonplace... (CP124)
Although his language usually was direct, he often reversed the usual grammatical positions of words to fit his selected rhyme scheme and he often used sloppy diction, ragged rhythm and giddy metre (Kennelly).
Over the kind brown earth we bend/ and one with God are we/ In October-time- the end/ of passions jittery (CP66)
... No music when/ the dancers infinite/ called from a flower/ called my name... (CP68)
Like this my memory saw/ like this my childhood heard/ these pilgrims of the North./ And memory, you have me spared/ a light to follow them/ who go to Bethlehem (CP72)
Joyce, and especially his Ulysses, influenced K greatly: Rush out and bring in roses/ to the Joycean laugh that imposes/ no restrictions on the word (CP302)
This is similar to the concept in ALICE IN WONDERLAND that a word is what the speaker wants it to be. This can be very difficult for the listener. However, breaking or bending the rules is an Irish trait. Therefore, he may be excused a few lapses.
K admitted that much of his work was slipshod, rough-cut, unpolished:... and verse that can redeem a soul/ and make a body beautiful/ I did not work at it at all (CP312). For him, true poetry was written from the gut rather than from the head. He claimed that true poetry will be recognised as being spontaneous... and never re-written (Brian Devine in PK319). I and other professional writers and communicators, who do not have such genius and total spontaneity, would disagree with K on this. Really good work needs: head as well as heart/ and memory for words/ and bomb-shell thoughts of yesterday/ can be, like me,/ weak and fleeting.
The idea of arty-crafty technicians routinely using an old-style or computer-based thesaurus to work and rework mere words, so as to make them seem spontaneously clever would have appalled K. It appals me also, though I use computer-generated synonyms occasionally and a spelling-checker most of the time. A spelling-checker would not have weakened K's work either.
K's imagery was best when he used country analogies. This may be one reason why urban literati underestimated him- they were not familiar with the natural phenomena and the scope of his observation behind his imagery.
Of a new dawn on Lough Derg, he writes: Mass was said. Another day began./ The penance wheel turned round again (CP114)
K was a very astute observer of nature- light, wind, landscape, animal- and human- behaviour. His readers, especially those from rural backgrounds, can feel the textures, see the pictures, hear the sounds of his ideas: A dog lying on a torn jacket under a heeled-up cart,/ a horse nosing along the posied headland, trailing/ a rusty plough. Three heads hanging between wide-apart/ legs. October playing a symphony on a slack wire paling (CP80)
I turn the lea-green down/ gaily now,/ and paint the meadow brown/ with my plough (CP1)
... A drove/ of steaming bullocks rush past/ in cloudy terror (CP40)
She died one morning in the beginning of May/ and a shower of sparrow-notes was the litany of her dying (CP99)
... A sick horse nosing around a meadow for a clean place to die (CP101)
Like the afterbirth of a cow stretched on a branch in the wind (CP92)
The cows on the grassland heights/ followed the hay that had wings-/ the February fodder that hung itself on the black branches/ of the hill-top hedge (CP98)
The maiden of spring is with child/ by the Holy Ghost (CP20)
Chickens on a kitchen floor/ white wyandottes like powder-puffs (CP127)
... the tracks of cattle to a drinking place (CP144)
... Mass-going feet/ crunched the wafer-ice on the potholes (CP144)
Some of K's imagery may be lost to future generations because of depopulation of rural Ireland or change in farm management practice:... a Leitrim man/ with a face as sad as a flooded hayfield (CP107); or because of change in the custom of visiting Lough Derg:... in the rocky draught between the houses/ old women tried/ to pull bare feet close to their bellies (CP112).
Of the sounds of hand-milking into a metal bucket (he had not heard of the Caribbean metal bands.): Outside in the cow-house my mother/ made the music of milking (CP144). That same music fascinated me as a child: The collie licked the child/ to a pastorale of lowing cows,/ conducted by the metronomic sound/ of milk swish- swashing froth.
Today, as a result of modern economics and EC agricultural policies, the amalgamation of small farms into larger holdings has turned hand-milked cows into an endangered species. The man or woman who machine-milks 40-60 cows unaided has little time for strangers in the milking parlour and the parlour cats (soon to be outlawed by EC regulations) get nary a squirt of milk into a thirsty gob at all. If we are allowed into today's milking parlour, we must be content to hear the whine/roar of electric/petrol-driven motors, the clang of metallic bails, the click-click of vacuum regulators, the rattle of milk clusters. And urban PAYE-workers imagine the snap and rustle of rubber-banded tax-free milk money, the whisper-scrape of the cashier's hatch, the discreet deposit in a cross-border bank.
Some of my own imagery may also be lost, because I can't find a publisher or because of extinction of wildlife, such as the salmon:... the questing nib,/ probing out of the express froth below;/... the mighty jump, electric in the spray -/ jewels and small rainbows for us (R/HANLEYS FALLS)
* 4. SELF-EXAMINATION
I go from you as a snail/ into my twisted habitation./... I know the shallow ways/ of self (CP63).
If it is to be of universal import, poetry must contain a high degree of self-examination. It must examine and question accepted conventions. It must also address human reaction to the so-called basic dogmas and truths- birth/death, growth/senility, immaturity/maturity and more abstract values and emotions- love/hate, God/Devil, good/evil, subjective/objective realities randomness/meaning of existence, etc.
Am I merely an amalgamation of things,/ bits and pieces strung together?/ Am I my profession, an ethical reality?/ Am I my careful feet, my unpredictable penis,/ my ambivalent hands,/ one hand clapping in a Zen temple,/ the other severed in the surgeon's bin?/ Am I the sin of my ancestors,/ the mind-creation of my children, my wife?/ Shall I pay the price for them?
K was very critical of himself and of others (Warner 1981). He was honest about his weaknesses, doubts and prejudices. Many examples are given in Sections 11-19 and 22-27. However, in many ways, he was a master con-man, capable of great meanness and dishonesty, balanced by reckless love and uncompromising truthfulness. He was a dangerous man, a man to discredit... (SK144).
Garratt was unfair to K on the question of his alleged plagiarism from Yeats (Section 1). He also suggests that in K's criticism of others, the real subject was K himself, with the aim of self-aggrandisement. In my view this was unfair also. I believe that K wanted to prove his worth and to show up the weakness of the opposition but he was also very critical of himself: A star-child stands aghast/ before a mirror (CP40)
A tree, a woman, a flower,/ are nothing of themselves./ Only when these/ throw back the image of my Egoist/ I love them, call them pretty-pretty names (CP42)
... I might crow/ on the sun-caught tower/ a vain praise-crowing/ and forget my meanness/ in a moment's power (CP60)
Lost the long hours of pleasure/ all the women that love young men./ O can I still stroke the monster's back/ or write with unpoisoned pen (CP74)
... Have you known Charity? Have I? (CP112)
... It was the weak will they loved/ the smoker's, drinker's daydreamer's will.../... My nature is to surrender (CP218)
The gravel grind/ keeps humility in a writer's mind./ Lift them up and they become/ impossible, they'll wreck the home,/ destroy the family, send Christ back/ to His manger (CP219)
"Poetry is a piece of earth in which the Holy Ghost is manifest" (SK50). It "... must vitalise the human spirit in some way... The best poets are those who lie prostrate before God" (SK164,165). It "... is Universal (SK165) ... it is not Irish or (of) any other nationality" (SK173). In every poet there is something of Christ writing the sins of the people in the dust (SK267). A poet is a theologian (SK351). A desert man, I kneel,/ stick-tracing the Rubiyat,/ the Koran, the Words of Christ/ in blowing sand... (R/THE WAY I SEE IT).
Is verse an entertainment only?/ Or is it a profound and holy/ faith that cries the inner history/ of the failure of man's mission (CP242). She came to me last night,/ into my consciousness./ She slowly finger-fucked my mind,/ ejaculating poetry... /...I call for Her. O Lady!/ can't You see I need Your hand? (R/MUSE AND THE VIRGIN POET). As the faithful kneel in Churches,/ I jump bog-drains, scale ditches,/ in April-starved Mayo marshes,/ in the place of jaundiced whins,/ a heathen in obsessive search/ of Fionn's bradawn feasa,/ the river god, and the God within. (R/THOUGHTS ON GOOD FRIDAY 1990).
In the Introduction to the COMPLETE POEMS Peter said: "When Patrick wrote, he wrote because he had to":... for verse/ is born of a curse/ that not even a New Moon Carnival can disperse" (CP343). For K, to write poetry was a sacred act, an act of consecration. He was a priest of the God who is Poetry.
Peter wrote: There must be a superior sense behind the words a sense that reveals the Creator (SK43); Poetry must not only reveal the natural but the supernatural (SK44); the only valid subject... is the expression of the writer's personality, the heart laid bare (SK46,47)
I just want to assure all/ that a poem made is a cure-all/ of any soul sickness (CP313)
... the Poem alive is a cure-all/ the only panacea for the soul (CP341)
Many poets will identify with those sentiments. K was not thinking of posterity (SK176). He knew that he had few fans. His material was published originally in minor outlets, including the Kavanagh Weekly. He wrote to assemble his jumbled thoughts, to comment on life and society (originally in the hope that he could change the world but, later, resigned to the fact of his own insignificance). He wrote to express his wonder at and love of life and, not least, to save his own sanity.
The man or woman "in whose dunghill of emotion/ grow flowers of poetry" (CP112) is a not such a rare breed. But poetry must be more than a surrogate for sedatives. Few ordinary readers want to hear the rambling soul-cry from the psychiatrist's couch. The poet who writes only for him/herself appeals less to the casual reader than if the theme includes universal or common interest.
For K, morality was the courage to say (and practice) what he believed to be life-giving and true, even though it cut across his own self interest (PK126). I agree. Amorality is the practice of flexible ethics, by which nothing is innately good or evil, the end justifies the means, and the whims or circumstances of the moment dictate the propriety of personal action or inaction. An amoral person may be regarded as evil by certain standards but may not be hypocritical if the action and conscience are consistent with each other.
Though he exposed the amorality in Irish society, K also admitted an amoral tendency in himself: I certainly enjoyed myself thoroughly/ rambling idly and rather amorally (CP315)
... amoral Autumn gives her soul away/ and every maidenhead without a fight (CP156)
K admitted that he begged, borrowed and stole money to survive. He was an adept con-man. He sent begging letters to raise money for his food and rent (SK58)... Lend me ten bob (SK216). "... some people were wondering how I got the money to fly to Rome... (in 1950)... a woman it was to be sure" (SK208). He stole money from his mother to buy cigarettes (SK50). He collected fees for work not done or badly done: he got an advance from a publisher for a book he did not produce (SK191); he seldom sat through a film while he was film critic for The Standard but wrote his critique, based on impressions formed during the first 10 minutes; he pretended to comment seriously on Philip Little's mountain of verse, scratched a few marks on an odd sheet and collected a fee every time he was strapped for cash. He burned it by the grateful armful for fuel (SK127). A hospital (in which K was offered the services of a psychiatrist to help him sort out his problems but he declined) billed him for medical expenses. K declared that the hospital authorities could use the services of a psychiatrist (SK354).
He tried to exploit contemporary news, as when, on the day that Roosevelt's death was announced (1945), he hurried home and wrote his sonnet ROOSEVELT in a few hours. It was published in the Irish Times next day (SK132).
In 1947, he wrote to Peter: "Are you not also a humbug? The idea of claiming everyone else a fraud is very insincere and bad business too" (SK148). Was everyone was out of step but our Johnny and his brother?
By the late 1940s, though he knew that he was producing some superb pieces, he realised that he was not likely to be accepted as a serious poet in Ireland. His style was too direct, too abrasive, too self-centred. He knew also that he would have to compromise, to write what the publishers and readers wanted. He admitted to Peter in 1950: "Of course the rich wife might arrive... I am quite ready to sacrifice my integrity, as you suggest" (LF153). In fact, he sacrificed it many times before and after, thereby proclaiming his humanity. He prostituted his work when he had to: "The things in A SOUL FOR SALE were not me but what Macmillans want, Palgravian lyricism, thin and artificial" (LF195)
But would I take a five pound note/... in lieu/ of all the lovely things I wrote?/ I took the five pound note... (CP220)
The GREEN FOOL was permeated by the lie of Mother Ireland. He was dreaming just before awakening... it contained barefaced lies (SK59). In Self Portrait, K admitted that the GREEN FOOL was a stage-Irish lie (PK185) and he denounced the book as trash (PK393). Peter accused K of "going false" in the Mucker poems (a series about life in Inniskeen). K replied in 1960: "Interesting you say I go false in Mucker poems. They are lies. I never belonged there. Terrible, ignorant, vulgar place Inniskeen... I shall hardly ever go there again except for a day or so" (LF228, 229).
K visited Lough Derg twice, in 1940 and 1942 (LF58, 87). He went prepared with sandwiches and whiskey (CP394), unusual items in a pilgrim's luggage. His motive in going there was more temporal than spiritual: he was gathering material for an article that was published in The Standard in June 1942 (LF68). He did not enjoy the experience and his comments were even harsher than in his poem: "Lough Derg is typical of... the Irish mind. No contemplation, no adventure, the narrower primitive piety of the small huxter with a large family". He had similar comments about England: "I'm in no shape for standing much of the savage streets of London"...and... "for the English mediocre mentality is terribly dull and a blank wall. No adventure" (SK293). He was impartial in his castigation of nationalities.
He wrote the LOUGH DERG poem within weeks of leaving the island but refused to publish "lest he intrude on sacred ground". Peter published it in 1971, four years after Patrick's death (CP394).
"A certain psychiatrist was blackmailing a politician... employed K to act as a go-between. K... began collecting from both sides and lived very well for a time" (LF76).
"Patrick Little, Minister of Posts & Telegraphs, had a... pious brother... who wrote... pietistic trash as verse. Patrick took the job of editing it... (but used armfuls of)... it as fuel... and would be off to Patrick Little to collect another pound or thirty shillings" (LF76).
He wrote CURTAIN (CP146) in memory of a fellow who was "a... witless bore" but whose house was a possible entree to society and a job. He was ashamed of having written that bread-and-butter screed and would not allow it to be reprinted (CP397).
Peter said that many of K's early writings disappeared, some destroyed by mice, some by members of the family in a cleaning operation (CPxix). In particular, he said that the original of THE GREAT HUNGER, written in 1941 in pen, was lost (CP393). In an article called "Faked: the original Kavanagh", Liam Collins (Sunday Independent, October 15, 1989, page 1) reported what must have been the sweetest strokes of K's career, his best revenge on those who would not "know a poem from a hole in the ground". Collins stated that when K was becoming recognised as a first-rate poet (in the late 50's and 60's), collectors wanted to buy the original longhand versions of his published poems. Although the originals were long gone, Collins states that K did not disappoint the collectors- he spent hours re-writing faked originals (no doubt with plenty of cross-outs) and sold them to the gullible to meet his modest needs, his drink and his flutters on the horses.
K was said to have taken "a famous institution (UCD...?? when??...)" for IR 2000 for the original manuscript of THE GREAT HUNGER. As the original was lost, a copy was "rewritten" in 1951, a full 10 years after the poem was published. Collins cites John Ryan and Tony McInerney, contemporaries of K, who were aware of his "forgeries". In fairness, K was almost penniless at the time and would have seen this as a great joke against the philistines who had rejected him. McInerney was also cited that K regaled all and sundry in McDaid's Bar with his hoaxes. It was a fitting case of "caveat emptor" and K would have felt that the gullible emptor had it coming for a long time.
Hypocrisy is the practice of the double standard, a conscious inconsistency between thought and action. We are all hypocrites to some degree when we don't act as we think we should, or when we act as we think we should not. Unfortunately, in business, art, science, politics and most other spheres of life (including religion), we are all tainted to some degree. It is not called hypocrisy too often now- preferred words include reconsideration, facilitation, rationalisation or compromise. It's the name of the game of survival.
K, was thoroughly self-centred and arrogant until his early 50s, when his health began to fail. Before that, he wrote primarily for himself and cared little if his writing upset his readers and damned the begrudgers: "The creative writer is a selfish brutal creature who can never conceal... contempt" (for those who can not express themselves and must content themselves by looking at creation from the outside) (SK224). Later, as he learned to control his anger and pride and as he began to love himself and others, he admitted those failings publicly. He realised that he was:... imprisoned/ in the chamber of reflection./ He must go out and take an interest in people/ and not be the central character of the play./ If what happens to him is to be important/ it must be seen as the importance of others (CP249). He began to write with others in mind also: Into me never entered/ care for you. I am self-centred/ but.../ I give you the womb of the poem (CP326)
In 1950, he wrote: "Who has ever sympathised less with his suffering fellows then yourself, Patrick Kavanagh?... Tell me of anyone's death which would be more to you... You are as selfish as a cat (SK214)... a defect of character my friend... which is actually the source of your attraction. It produces pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, envy, anger and sloth. It is a great pity" (SK216). In IF YOU EVER GO TO DUBLIN TOWN (1953), the year of his libel action against The Leader and two years before his lung surgery, he confessed that he was proud, vain, eccentric, dangerous (especially to girls), slothful, that he had failed to achieve his potential and that he was a lonely man (CP252). If this is not self-examination, what is?
And the grief and defeat of men like these peasants/ is God's way- maybe- and we must not want too much to see (CP96)
O Christ! I am locked in a stable with pigs and cows forever (CP100)
K's view of Irish rural life was cold and cynical at first glance. His peasants were depicted as unbelievably wretched. They eked out a meagre existence from thin-soiled, sodden, stony hill farms and the cold fields of Monaghan: The Devil stays,/ some discontent on his face./ Already he can see another/ conscience coming on to bother/ Ireland with muck and anger,/ ready again to die of hunger/ condemnatory and uncivil... (CP217)
K's peasants: On a first reading K's work, I rejected it because of its "unbelievable" harshness. His gentler pictures did not compensate fully for the fierce brutality of life and the religious and mental oppression evoked in poems like THE GREAT HUNGER. Other poems showed the sunnier, happier sides to rural life, but the damage was done for me by the wintry harshness, hopelessness, ignorance, lack of love and quiet desperation (Warner 1981) portrayed in the characters in THE GREAT HUNGER. One of the miracles of the human spirit is that it can strive to believe in a loving God in the face of such grinding adversity and that it can make the best of such an existence with stubborn stoicism: O let us kneel where the blind ploughman kneels/ and learn to live without despairing (CP96)
To understand and identify with K's work, it is crucial to make the distinction between Northern (Ulster) people and the Irish of the other provinces. This distinction is also vital for comparison of his work with that of poets who wrote, for instance, of the rural scene in Connaught. K's harsh words may well have been true for many Ulster small-holders in the 1920s to the 1940s. But I found it almost impossible to believe his characters. I come from a small village, Ballymote, Co. Sligo. I grew up in the 1940s and '50s and am familiar with village- and rural- life of the West. I did not know any farmers so mentally poor, so hopeless, so unhappy and so ignorant as K's. The peasants and small-holders which I knew in my boyhood seemed to be proud, contented people (though some were desperately poor in materially terms). Martin Millane, who worked for my grandfather from 14 years of age until he died in his mid-70s, typifies the peasant-labourer of my boyhood and youth: Suntime, snowtime, raintime or windtime, Martin turned in for six decades to milk Grandfather's few sleek cows until the bottled milk came to Dromore. He was the elemental presence in the homestead, the first to be seen when we'd call to Carrigeens. The Lares and Penates were rolled into his friendly, lanky frame. To my: "How's it going, Martin?", he would answer without fail: "Yerrah, not so bad." (R/MARTIN).
There were many like Martin: celibate, poor and proud and seldom without a smile. He knew where he was going (where we are all going): merely passing through.
Jimmy Brennan, a classmate and friend from primary school days, worked in my father's shop from the time he left school until his tragic death from lung-haemorrhage a few years ago. Jimmy died by the side of the road, as he walked back to work after lunch one day. He was poor materially (my father's business was always touch-and-go with the bank and his staff were paid poorly by factory standards) and he was also celibate. But he had one of the richest souls and was one of the most loving men in my life: His Requiem was black with friends,/ gathered from the winds./ We shouldered him along the final route./ A kilted piper skirled a wild lament/ which echoed in our souls/ as clay thumped down on wood./ There was no shame in us/ when hard men wept (R/JIMMY)
I have lived also with poor Chinese, whose incomes are but a fraction of the Irish standard. They were more like the Connaught people than K's lot. Perhaps this is one reason why K regarded Yeats as a bit of a phoney- Yeats was more familiar with the Big Houses and with the peasants of Connaught. I can imagine K's wintry smile. He growls that I did not know the hardship of his time and place, any more than my older sons can understand the (relative) hardship of mine.
The North (Yin, cold) has longer and colder winters than the South (Yang, warm). Just as Southern temperament may be perceived by Northerners as emotional, insincere, feckless, weak-minded and half-hearted, Northern temperament may be perceived by Southerners as dour, bitter, serious, stubborn and unrelenting. English politicians, who have the misfortune to be sent to "sort out" the stalemate in Northern Ireland may not appreciate the reality of these differences. In the poem THE TWELFTH OF JULY, K could have been speaking for himself, as much as for the Unionists:... the voice of Ulster speaking,/ tart as week-old buttermilk from a churn (CP139) and later:... from them we have much to learn-/ hard business-talk, no medieval babble,/ but the sudden knife of reality running to the heart... (CP139)
In those lines, K indicates that he was a Southerner who envies some of the Northern attributes. Many commentators, especially those outside Ireland regarded him as such. They were wrong. K was a Northerner, Ulster steel to the backbone.
May God have pity the poor wretch (married or single) who sees no options other than those available to Patrick Maguire in THE GREAT HUNGER:... With all miseries/ he is one (CP85).
... And Patrick Maguire was still six months behind life-/ his mother six months ahead of it;/ his sister straddle-legged across it:-/ one leg in hell and the other in heaven/ and between the purgatory of middle-aged virginity-/ she prayed for release to heaven or hell (CP94)
If K wrote nothing else, before or after, that masterpiece would qualify him as a Great Irish Poet. It is one of the most striking and memorable poems of this century but K said of it later that it lacked the nobility and response of poetry (Kennelly).
The poem begins: Clay is the word and clay is the flesh/ where the potato-gatherers like mechanised scarecrows move/ along the side-fall of the hill- Maguire and his men (CP79).
It ends with the lines:... No hope. No lust./ The hungry fiend/ screams the apocalypse of clay/ in every corner of this land (CP104)
Nothing had changed through Maguire's long hard life. He had shambled ape-like through a living hell. He died with his mental, spiritual and physical bellies as empty of vital sustenance as when he was pulled from his moaning mother's womb.
K had to write that poem but he also wrote LOUGH DERG and WHY SORROW, both long descriptive poems and many memorable short ones. Those poems could not fail to evoke love, pity, anger, despair and laughter in full-blooded readers. They capture in a unique way the social history and rural culture of his time.
Rural electrification, oil- or electric- powered machinery and mains-water were still in the future. Only the rich had toilets and bathrooms. Radios and cinemas were scarce, discos and television unheard of and social clubs were confined to the Pale. Food and minor luxuries were scarce during and after the 1939-'45 War, even for those with money to spend. Tobacco, tea, sugar, snuff etc were rationed. Meat was scarce and expensive. Many families considered themselves lucky to have fat bacon once a week for a treat. Cars were rare and bicycles scarce. For most, the distance that they could travel on foot set the boundaries to the world of their experience. The luckier ones had an ass and cart or a pony and trap. "In recalling this early period of Patrick's life it must be taken into account that we in our area were still in the Middle Ages" (SK24).
K's people were poor, crafty but uneducated, frustrated, priest-ridden and dirty: No monster hand lifted up children and put down apes/ as here (CP82)
... an ignorant peasant deep in dung (CP91)
... the peasant ploughman who is half a vegetable.../ He is not always blind: sometimes the cataract yields/ to sudden stone-falling or the desire to breed (CP101)
They worked a 14-hour day, six days a week because they had to. Sunday was their weekly day of rest, blessed by Mass and mumbled prayer in a language they could not understand (Latin): Maguire sprinkled his face with holy water/ as the congregation stood up for the last Gospel./ He rubbed the dust off his knees with his palm, and then/ coughed the prayer phlegm up from his throat and sighed: Amen (CP86)
K's people were introverted, parochial and mental zombies: We are a dark people,/ our eyes are ever turned/ inward (CP9)
He knew what he wanted to know/ how the best potatoes are grown/ and how to put flesh on a York pig's back/ and clay on a hilly bone/ and how to be satisfied with the little/ the destiny that masters give/ to the beasts of the tillage country-/ to be damned and yet to live (CP31)
Maggie Byrne is prowling for dead branches (CP78)
Let us be kind, let us be kind and sympathetic:/ maybe life is not for joking or for finding happiness in (CP95)
K's peasants had little initiative. They accepted a dreary, monotonous, repetitive life: Sitting on a wooden gate,/ Sitting on a wooden gate,/ Sitting on a wooden gate/ he didn't care a damn (CP90)
They accepted mouldy crumbs from life's feast. They preferred to do things as their fathers had before them:... Their history is a grain of wheat. A season/ the cycle of a race that will persist/ when all the scintillating tribes of reason/ are folded in a literary mist (CP31)
Their lack of pride, personal responsibility and organisation was well described, as for instance, when the priest visited an old man at death's door:... he knew every rag and stick,/ the mean unmade bed behind the kitchen,/ the sights they hurried to hide when he came in./... an unwashed shirt/ kicked under the bed, and the chamber-pot/ that the woman forgot to empty,/ a stolen pitch-fork in a corner (CP179)
Faint-hearted folk my people are,/ to Poverty's house they have never invited/ the giant Pride,/ but await the world where wrongs are righted./ They till the fields and scrape among the stones/ because they cannot be schoolmasters-/ they work because judge Want condemns the drones./... duty is a joke/ among my peasant folk (CP43)
Desperate people, desperate animals./ What must happen the poor priest/ somewhat educated who has to believe that these people have souls/ as bright as a poet's... (CP321)
Addressing a potato on his plate (and, remember, Paddy Murphy is usually nicknamed Spud and K's first name was Patrick), he wrote: You're boasted to the centre, too,/ and wet, in soapy soil, you grew/ but I am thankful still to you/ for hints of history given (CP137)
The hollowness of the blighted potato, recalling the 1847 Famine, is used to portray the mental, physical and emotional famine of the peasants, who grew from the same starved soil. They dreamed steamy, hopeless love-wet dreams, while their mothers or sisters grunted and snored in the other room (CP88)
In spite of their hardships, they retained a few vestiges of pride:... A proud people/ proud of a parish priest whose words begat/ old music in the silences (CP182) and they tried to keep their homes looking neat and clean from the road. Their living-space was often cramped and dark, as it was common for a couple to have six to fourteen children in cottages or small houses, whose windows were small and too few. Paint and slates were scarce and dear, so they added a new coat of whitewash each year and new thatch as needed:... the white houses on the side of the hills/ popped up like mushrooms in September (CP114)
The social life of K's peasants was tough and simple. Poverty, the need to work long hours, lack of transport (other than shank's mare and bicycles), taboos enforced by religion and superstition all put severe restrictions on social behaviour and confined social interaction to simple, localised and public pursuits:... neighbour's children in the field next to me/playing where a bewitched blackthorn's growing/ beside a pile of fairy whinstone rocks/ that no man dreams of quarrying- not knowing/ what's hid beneath, who here at midnight walks (CP136)
Their social outlets were: local football matches in rushy fields (the best venues had makeshift urinals for the men but the women were expected to have strong bladder sphincters); the hand-ball alley (rare and usually at a crossroads); the pub (many of which were also grocers, but with facilities and standards of hygiene which would not be tolerated today); the rambling-house and the game of cards; the monthly fair; the annual pilgrimage and circus. But the main social activity was gossip, interminable gossip. The church-gates, crossroads, pubs and rambling-houses were abuzz with easy natter. The talk was mainly about the weather, about people and their doings, about land, jobs, money, marriages, illnesses and deaths. These rural people could be said to have nothing to say, yet they kept on saying it and enjoying each other's company (Warner 1973): At the cross-roads the crowd had thinned out: last words are uttered. There is no tomorrow; no future but only time stretched for the mowing of the hay (CP87)
Twenty-five was the most popular card game, as it was in my youth in the 1950s and as it is today in rural Ireland. It can be played by up to six people but is occasionally played by eight (four partners). In some parts of Ireland, the Joker is removed from the deck, as he is thought to be the symbol of the Devil. The game demands concentration and judgement to overcome the distraction of the incidental chit-chat around the table. The selfish or careless player can expect to be told off at the end of each round: You should have held the five from Johnny's knave, Mick. You let the 20-man out with his ace-of-hearts next time!
... The cards are shuffled and the deck/ laid flat for cutting- Tom Malone/ cut for trump.../... I see you're breaking/ your two-year-old. Play quick, Maguire,/ the clock there says it's half-past ten-/ Kate, throw another sod on that fire./... Eleven o'clock and still the game/... Midnight, one o'clock, two./ Somebody's leg has fallen asleep./ What about home? Maguire, are you/ using your double-tree this week?/... And they are happy as the dead or sleeping... (CP98)
Night, and the futile cards are shuffled again (CP103)
Because the people had to make their own entertainment, conversation, story-telling and ballad-making helped to pass the long winter nights:... Talk in evening corners and under trees/ was like an old book found in a king's tomb./ The children gathered and listened/ and some of the saga defied the draught in the open tomb/ and was not blown (CP93)
... A whole nation blathered/ without art... (CP267)
Their intellectual life consisted in reading:... Reynolds News or the Sunday Dispatch,/ with sometimes an old almanac brought down from the ceiling/ or a school reader brown with the droppings of thatch (CP93)
Ten o'clock was the decent time to go home and the Rosary was recited before bedtime (SK25). When I was a boy, one way of ensuring that ramblers did not stay too late was for the woman of the house to announce that the fifteen decades would begin in 5 minutes.
A favourite summer pastime was to lie out in a hayfield listening to lung-infinite larks (not a bad life, if you can afford it, and one which, thank God, is alive and well in parts of rural Ireland): I am rich/ although I lie/ on the shady side of a summer ditch (CP50)
... and when we put our ears to the paling-post/ the music that came out was magical (CP143)
Dancing was confined safely to the cross-roads (one of DeValera's romantic images of Irish culture) on occasions like bonfire night or, occasionally, in a neighbour's house. The kitchen dance was called a "stir" and was a great social occasion (Warner 1973). Opportunities to have a slither on the boards or a surreptitious lie-in in stark barns called dance-halls (so well depicted in the film "The Ballroom of Romance") were uncommon until the 1950s.
Rural activities which feature little in his work (because of geographical and time differences and the drudgery of long working hours) include fox- and badger-baiting, ferreting, beagling, coursing, poaching, hunting, shooting, golf, horse-racing and swimming. Most inland-farmers of the time could not swim and feared water. Many farmers in his area never saw the sea. The luckier ones might have visited Bundoran or Clogher Head a few times and rolled up their trousers to paddle to their ankles in seawater.
K made few references to fishing. One of these infers that fishing was seen as work, not as recreation: As I crossed the wooden bridge I wondered/ as I looked into the drain/ if ever a summer morning should find me/ shovelling up eels again (CP141)
Another is a barbed reference to living death, so apt for his people:... Sometimes they did laugh and see the sunlight,/ a narrow slice of divine instruction./ Going along the river at the bend of Sunday/ the trout played in the pools encouragement/ to jump in love though death bait the hook. (CP92)
One of his best images (of crows homing high:... through a mackerel sky... (CP166)) suggests that K may have gone sea-fishing. He had gone word-fishing earlier, as the "mackerel sky" image was in print before him.
K's farmers' only knowledge of mackerel would have been to see them stale and lifeless on an itinerant fishmonger's wooden tray. They would not have seen the miracle of shoals of mackerel dart-twisting, into wisps and clouds in clear blue water. But K may have gone mackerel-fishing in Dublin Bay or off the Kerry coast, or he may have lifted the image from James Joyce, who had used it before K.
In comparison to the western rivers, there were no good salmon rivers near Monaghan or Dublin. This may be why K ignored the king of fish. My western rivers still hold the fish of knowledge and stalking them is one of my obsessions.
K's Ireland was tatty and depressing. Though materially much better off, today it is even tattier in many ways, a thatched bothan re-roofed with rusty galvanised. It is no longer "St. Patrick wearing an alb with no stitch dropped" (CP107). The root of the shamrock moulders in our soil "but the stem... (is)... flawed and it got lost" (CP107). I would add: precision-chopped in the harvest of our emigrants.
Three points are important in understanding the conservative nature of K's people:
(2) The hold of the Irish-Roman Catholic Church (I-RCC) was powerful in the first half of this century (MM33-94). (Some say it is still too powerful).
(3) The teaching on Original Sin was held more strongly then than now.
Original Sin is the theory underlying all human proclivity to evil and all hardship, suffering and death. In that theory, the newborn child, screaming at its first contact with the outside world, carries the shadow of the sin of Adam and Eve. The old-style Catholic teaching on the inherent sinfulness of natural things is questioned in these simple lines: The trees/ heard nothing stranger than the rain or the wind/ or the birds-/ but deep in their roots they knew a seed had sinned (CP175)
Hellfire-and-brimstone sermons and official censorship kept most people ignorant of trends abroad and maintained the status quo by instilling fear and doubt: Banned or unbanned/ I see no hope for this hopeless land (CP197). However, K did not agree that humanity should live in fear:... and I knew that the fear of God was the beginning of folly (CP209).
Are we doomed to a tainted life, a life of selfishness and sin? Is all humanity wounded mortally, in that it is self-hopeless and without the means of self-redemption? According to Christian teaching, the incarnation of the Christ in human flesh and His voluntary self-sacrifice on the Cross put the mark of God beside that of the Serpent in Man. Now, whether we are Buddhist, Christian, or atheist (and whether we believe it or not), we have been given the supreme gift: the means of our redemption if we will try to live positive lives.
Through the ages, these concepts of Original Sin and Redemption have bothered thinkers who were only partially conditioned to Christian concepts. They bothered K and they certainly bother me: What if the Tomb was smelly/ that first Easter dawn/ and its broken Body/ decayed like our own?/ What if out beyond the stars/ other beings think and sing?/ Do they read an astral bible;/ do they crucify their King? (R/PRIEST)
The degree of mental and physical poverty in K's peasants is rare in my Ireland today. The institutional church, out of touch with the people (see Sections 6 and 7), tries to keep control and to keep the people ploughman-blind to alternative ways of living and loving. That control is slipping slowly but surely (MM215-227).
... He met a girl carrying a basket/... and he saw sin.../ For the strangled impulse there is no redemption./... He saw his cattle/ and stroked their flanks in lieu of wife to handle (CP86)
K was reared in a very barbaric form of religion, a kind that was very injurious to a sensitive person, a kind that wouldn't do any harm to the ordinary idiot (PK173). This oppressive, joyless religion tried to hammer the faithful into conformity, a conformity so pathetic as to bring tears to the eyes, bitter bile to the mouth:... Life dried in the veins of these women and men/ the grey and grief and unlove,/ the bones in the backs of their hands,/ and the chapel pressing its low ceiling over them (CP92)
For Maguire and many of his time, religion was a social system of "do's and dont's" which trapped believers into:... never looking away from the brim-stone bitterness (CP110)
... Every blow/ squashed flat something that knew of beauty/ drove joy into a wet weedy onion-row (CP168)
A girl comes up.../... full-bosomed-/ imagination cloistered in morality (CP249)
A similar but less powerful oppression of mental freedom and personal responsibility still exists in Ireland, especially in rural areas: Ah! the agony/ to see her as she really is,/ no beauty but a bag of bones,/ with scraps of perfect flesh adhering,/ as virgin bunting on dilapidated cords./ The west, my goddess, wife and whore,/ commands me in magnetic tyranny/ as the moon a woman's blood,/ and she must heed the pull/ in loathing, yet in love,/ as I must heed her call... (R/LOOKING WEST)
K depicted frustrated bachelors whose main sexual release was fantasy, wet dreams, surreptitious glances at full, red blouses, or quick looks up an opportune skirt:... and Agnes held her skirts sensationally up,/ and not because the grass was wet either./ A man was watching her, Patrick Maguire./ She was in love with passion and its weakness/ and the wet grass could never cool the fire/ that radiated from her unwanted womb (CP89)
And for a good Saturday night, poor Maguire had nothing better to do than to dream-talk his imaginary lover from the flames and masturbate into the ashes of the dying fire: Pat opened his trousers wide over the ashes/ and dreamt himself to lewd sleepiness (CP88).
Whether solo, duet-style, oral or otherwise, masturbation is often treated with black humour in literature(,,). K, who died in 1967 (the year of the publication of Portnoy's Complaint), treated masturbation with little humour apart from the bizarre back-ground sound-effects to which Maguire relieved his frustration- the grunts of his sister in the bed and the roars of his mother to make sure that the henhouse was locked (CP88). The henhouse was locked with a vengeance, as the disgruntled old cock knew too well. K's puritanical religious formation and his lack of exposure to the gamy women and fly boyos of Dublin until late in life may explain his lack of humour on the topic.
The Phoenix, symbol of hope and vital force, came out of the ashes but Maguire, symbol of hopelessness and lethargy, came into them: (He)... sinned over the warm ashes again and his crime/ the law's long arm could not serve with 'time' (CP95). It was appropriate that a good Catholic should be reminded of hellfire as he shed the last drops of his lonely passion. In fairness to K, I suppose that the fire was the usual source of dream-trance for lonely people in the days before radio and TV. A gurgling radiator in a centrally-heated semi-D would not have been as quite as evocative, and the fire was a handy way of getting rid of the evidence (toilet tissues or Kleenex were unknown in rural Ireland at the time). At least it was better than to ejaculate into a sock and have to wear it unwashed to Sunday Mass.
K admitted that there was no laughter in THE GREAT HUNGER (SK106). The Irish police did not regard it as a laughing matter either. They questioned him about the lines implying masturbation (Warner 1973). The poem, including the offending lines, was published by Cuala Press (1942) and was republished by Macmillan (1947) without them. Later editions restored the lines (SK104). Peter said that the passage which caused the authorities offence was not the fire scenes, but the tragi-comic lines: "O he loved his mother... his cows... to clean his arse.../... two stones in his fist/ and an impotent worm on his thigh" (SK104).
Peter said that those who do not understand consider THE GREAT HUNGER K's most important poem! The poem was too much concerned with the woes of the poor (PK393). Eighteen years after its publication, K said: "it... is far too strong for honesty. And can a thing be truly compassionate if it is touched by hypocrisy..." (SK106). In contrast to the eccentric brothers, Augustine Martin (in PK292) classes it as the great poem of I-RCC sensibility... it establishes K as the finest religious poet Ireland has produced.
By Peter's standards, I do not understand K either. I rank the poem as K's best work, if not the most powerful writing by any Irish author whom I have read. For me, K had great compassion for the Maguires of this life. He treated the need for physical sexual relief in a calm, factual way- not as a primitive human physical need like scratching or defecating but as a base brutish one, just as inevitable but carrying the added loneliness of sin and guilt: his passion became a plague/ for he grew feeble bringing the vague/ women of his mind to lust nearness/ once a week at least flesh must make an appearance (CP83). In his make-believe Diary (1950), K said of himself:... for the first time in about two weeks you have sat down and used your mind and not gone to bed to luxuriate in wicked dreams (SK217).
But Paddy Maguire was a realist. He had no hope (in later life) of ever marrying. His sexual urgency throbbed on many levels- the human need for comfort, companionship, for release of anger and frustration and the simple need of the intact male to release sperm. Poor Maguire! For him there was no need to check his wallet for Red Stripes before his visit to the card-house; not even the need for nocturnal titillation from Tales of Madame O, the Kama Sutra, The Perfumed Garden and the like. He had only his clay-grained fist and his ashy cinders.
Maguire might not have seen or heard that bulls, stallions and rams kept in isolation from their females masturbate and practice homosexuality as a matter of course but he accepted his weekly "sin" in much the same way as he would accept a thorn under his nail. He would not fuss about it, merely get it out, get it off, get it in, get on with the next chore and then tell his tale in confession.
Maguire's confessor, whose training in psychology and psychiatry might be questionable by today's standards, would have heard the same story each time: Bless me... father... for I have sinned.../ It's a year since my last confession... father.../ I had... impure thoughts... and touched myself again... father.../ How many times did you... touch... yourself my son.../... Fifty two times... father... (OTMH)
Some more interesting variations could accompany the standard tale of woe in Confession: I poked a stick in the heifer's bearin', father.... Speak up, my son, I'm hard of hearin' too... (OTMH)
or: I milked the young ram... father... Surely you mean the ewe my son...? No... father... the young ram I bought last week... (OTMH)
The unfortunate confessor would have to wipe the grin off his face before it formed, or it might be interpreted as condoning bestiality.
Dear God! The lucky ones (married or unmarried) thank God for a joyful roll in a summer ditch or in the sheets. They make hay in summer, knowing that winter comes: I see skin and behind skin, I see flesh and sense soul and crave both but soul eludes me. Young skin is here, acres of skin, waiting eager skin, skin with skin-scents and honest love-sweat. I revel in living. But wrinkles crack and gouge parched earth. Skin begins to age, grows slack and pale. And skin coughs blood and skin leaks watery diarrhoea and skin tatters from bones. (R/MOTHBALLS IN PURGATORY)
Their poor relations (those with no partner with whom to share sexual love) must substitute fantasy and comforting self-loving for the real experience. Apart from instant blindness and a luxuriant growth of hair on the palm of the active hand, masturbation seldom hurt anyone except guilt-ridden poor devils. The picture of Maguire's tragic desolation over the coals is one of the very few that I have copied from K, used in a poem dedicated to him: Somewhere out there/ in outer- space cold Monaghan/ is the grave of a lonely Kavanagh-man/ who anguish- dreamed his lover's melt/ engulf him in the small-death throes/ of a poor man's bedtime fire./ His passion sizzled in the lenten ash,/ guilt blister- writhing in flame... (R/TALKING AT KAVANAGH)
In my youth, decades after Paddy Maguire's time, impure touches, self-abuse or self-pollution were terms used to describe masturbation. The topic was discussed in shame and whispers. Eating and drinking are normal, healthy acts but they can be abused, either if foregone altogether or if over-indulged to the point of gluttony. Today, sexologists (many admittedly left wing- or non- Catholic), regard male or female masturbation, whether played solo or as a duet, as a normal, healthy act, albeit a substitute to full, loving intercourse. The topic is discussed openly on radio and TV, if not at home and at school.
As to their teenage sons' starched pyjama fronts, wise parents turn a blind eye, leave a box of Kleenex in the bedroom and replace the box as needed. Maguire and his mother would have had heart attacks at the thought, not to mind the thought of wasting money to buy paper and it sinfully soft at that. Paddy's religious conditioning would have made him feel polluted, dirty. He would have felt guilty, out of control and hopeless: Religion's walls expand to the push of nature. Morality yields/ to sense- but not in little tillage fields (CP89)
... And he knows that his own heart is calling his mother a liar./ God's truth is life- even the grotesque shapes of his foulest fire (CP82)
... sometime in July/ when he was thirty-four or five/ he gloried in the lie:/ he made it read the way it should,/ he made life read the evil good/ while he cursed the acetic brotherhood/ without knowing why (CP91)
That philosophy is still preached today. If the primary purpose of each sexual act is procreation, it is logical to regard each deliberately non-procreative male orgasm as thwarting that purpose, i.e. all such acts (masturbation and artificial contraception) are sinful (Humanae Vitae, 1968). Nothing changes: At Vespers thirty years ago, at the famous talk on Growing Up, boys in hushed excitement saw Macker's tear-stained face, heard his saintly voice break weeping at the thought of mortal sin... If you touch yourself... there... you thorn Christ's brow... If you touch a girl... above the knee... or slide your eyes below the neck... you drive another Nail... If you dare to penetrate... the Temple of the Spirit... you plunge the Spear. More tears... I've never yet heard the Voice or seen the Tears of Christ but I heard Macker's voice and saw his tears. They haunt me down the years, taunt overvaunted rationality... If I would skewer red irons into my middle ear, his voice would not be silenced - it whispers through my skull, pleading, praying hopelessly... striving to avert my sin. (R/ECHOES FROM A FAILED SAINTHOOD)
In 1991, Andrew Stanway's explicit video, THE LOVERS' GUIDE, PART 1, caused consternation when it was discussed on the Late Late Show. One young married couple carried the traditional RCC flag. They declared their great joy in and love for each other and how their self-control and abstinence increased their respect for each other. They castigated the film as pornographic and the husband vehemently denied that masturbation was a normal practice, stating that he had never done it. Well good for him. I hope he does not have to view THE LOVERS' GUIDE, PART 2, as that is even more explicit. It includes positions and practices that would require six months of dedicated physical training before one might dare attempt them. It also includes some interesting uses for ice cubes and honey. Lollipops were never like that.
The simple concept that I can not love anyone else if I can not love myself was officially unacceptable in K's time. It challenges the view that martyrdom, self-mortification and self-sacrifice are positive virtues to be instilled and encouraged in place of self-centredness. These concepts assume a different perspective when they are discussed today in relation to Kamikaze raids in the 2nd World War, PLO suicide squads, Islamic notions of a Holy War, modern concepts of masochism, psychiatric illness, self-assertiveness and self-development etc. Today, many realise that self-sacrifice and self-centredness have positive and negative sides. The balanced life consists in keeping each in proportion.
The Dutch Catechism (circa 1966) with its more liberal views on sexuality and methods of expression of human love and comfort was still decades away from Maguire's time. (Few copies sold in Ireland anyway, even when they did come out). Vatican 2, which emphasised personal responsibility and goodwill, was also decades away, as was Alex Comfort's JOY OF SEX. Anyway, like many other good reads, that book would be banned by the authorities but smuggled in by decadents coming back from a holiday abroad, or ordered from foreign (pagan) Mail Order houses.
K made one veiled suggestion of adult incest: Ah but the priest was one of the people too-/ a farmer's son- and he surely knew/ the needs of a brother and sister (CP89)
Another expression of sexuality was:... the half-talk code of mysteries/ and the wink and elbow language of delight (CP18) and the exchange of crude remarks between the sexes as they watched bulls or stallions mate with their kind: Horrible old man/ country living has degraded him/ bulls and cows/ and immoral cocks in the hen house (CP198)
Steinbeck also dealt with that topic of man and woman watching a bull at work.
Some years ago, a group of us visited Spenthrift Farm, the top thoroughbred studfarm in Kentucky. We watched Nashua, a top American stallion, begin his excited prance-dance around a winking hobbled mare. A female veterinarian in our party said to me: "By God, he is proud!". The stud groom had to put a four inch roller-mop between him and his mare to prevent him driving up somewhere past her diaphragm. I responded with an embarrassing little pride of my own (10/10, at least by my standards) but my colleague merely hooted with laughter, as did the others who observed my discomfort. I had to do a nonchalant waggle through my trousers pocket to get IT straightened out, otherwise it might have broken off at the bend. "Chicken-shit!" she said, pointing at my crotch. She and I were married, but not to each other. Pity that, as she kept licking her top lip during the stallion's performance and she licked her right thumb nail absentmindedly, with a slight glaze in her eye.
Nashua at work was one of the most potent symbols of life that I have seen:... When that mighty instrument of life, the stallion's throbbing yard, stands proud, its thrusting thickness wider than my wrist and longer than my arm, I envy him who proudly wields it and the twitching mare who wet receives it and my poor imitation stiffens in salute. I dread the time of Complan, rubber sheets.
By comparison with horses, the mating of cattle and sheep is rather dull, a quick business-like job- it's all over before you have time to get a right look. The mating of pigs and dogs is downright boring. The male penetrates without too much excitement, gives a few pelvic thrusts, like a jaded rock-star, and then seems to just lie on the female and go to sleep with a stupid grin on his face. If he wakes up, the dog usually seems to get bored with the whole thing. He dismounts, still locked in the bitch, looks the other way (like a wise old priest) and waits for release in due course.
As for cats, I'd hate to be a tabby. The tom's penis is directed south-wards (away from his head) and is a adorned with vicious-looking papillae. When ready for action, it's like a horizontal mini-Christmas tree without the glamour of lights or tinsel. It probably feels like that to the tabby, who must be the queen of all sexual martyrs. This is because, she allows the tom to anchor himself by sinking his teeth in the scruff of her neck in order to turn his body into the shape of a fishing hook, to turn the wayward weapon north. Small wonder she screams so piteously in what for lucky human mates is ecstasy.
K's people recognised their basic drives all right, but were sexually inhibited by ignorance of contraceptive methods and fear of unwanted pregnancy:... children are tedious in hurrying fields of April/ where men are spanging across wide furrows./ Lost in passion that never needs a wife-/ the pricks that pricked were the pointed pins of harrows (CP80)
The twisting sod rolls over on her back-/ the virgin screams before the irresistible sock (CP84)
Substitutive fantasy ruled OK, the fantasy of bar-room terrorists and arm-chair tacticians. K's people, like we today, lived the unrealisable in fantasy and dream: And there would be girls sitting on the grass banks of lanes./ Stretch-legged and lingering staring-/ a man might take one of them if he had the courage./ But 'No' was in every sentence of the story/ except when the public-house came in and shouted its piece (CP92).
... They put down/ the seeds blindly with sensuous groping fingers/ and sensual sleep dreams subtly underground (CP85)
He dare not rise to pluck the fantasies/ from the fruited tree of life (CP87)
... Joe, a young man of imagined wives,/ smiles to himself and answers like a slave... (CP94)
... my dreams of having this young maidenbloom... (CP287)
The young women ran wild/ and dreamed of a child/ joy dreams though the fathers might forsake them... (CP90)
Three categories of K's country-women were untouchable-
But there was also the fear of being detected:... close to the earth, no man need fear for his wife; close to the earth, the stranger could forfeit his life! (R/THE SLIGO MAIDS AND THE STRANGER)
The dream of many mothers was to raise a priest. Who would have the neck to seduce a priest's mother, real or potential?:... and out of this sour soil he squeezed/ the answer to his wife's wishes:/ in steely grass and green rushes/ was woven the vestments of a priest (CP169)
(2) Under-aged girls: A man could get killed for less, except for incest, which would never be discussed in or outside the home. Incest and child abuse, which were not recognised publicly until very recently, would probably not have been mentioned outside of the confessional. K knew that they occurred in his time. He handled the question of child abuse in a most sensitive way: A little girl... told (Fr. Mat)/... how she once had loved the pianist/ who taught the convent girls./... He told her of a strange world. And then?/ He gave her loneliness forever./ She knew nothing about the ways of men/ until that day. "O Father heed my sorrow" (CP177)
Fr. Mat would have wept inside for this poor child. He was gentle with her as he said: "My daughter, you are the mystery in the piano's tune" (CP178)
(3) Tight-lipped spinsters: K was very harsh in his treatment of spinsters (Section 17 also). He must have heard the male chauvinist myth: "Tight lips, tight ass (vaginismus?)". The Chinese Yin-Yang law states: "As Above, so Below" (Section 24):... Maguire's/... sister tightens her legs and her lips and frizzles up/ like the wick of an oil-less lamp (CP103).
K's peasants were also inhibited by poverty. "The recognised economic holding was five Irish acres. They lived on it too, mostly off praties and oats... and... stirabout" (SK34). Houses and farms were so small and money so scarce, that a son sometimes took it as a perverse blessing for his mother to die when he reached marriageable age. This might allow him to bring a young woman into the house, as his wife:... cows and horses breed/ and the potato-seed/ gives a bud and a root and rots/ in the good mother's way with her sons (CP101)
... O the grip of irregular fields! No man escapes./ It could not be that back of the hills love was free/ and ditches straight (CP82)
They were inhibited especially by "religious" conditioning/belief (the evils of pleasure and sins of the flesh lead to hell fire; the glories of abstinence and self-sacrifice open heaven's gate): Is the body not the temple of the Holy Ghost/ and flesh eyes have glimpsed truth (CP69)
In the gap there's a bush weighted with boulders like morality,/ the fools of life bleed if they climb over (CP82)
... a trailing stem across an inch-wide chasm./... where can I look and not become a lover/ terrified at each recurring spasm (CP156)
It was common for men and women of marriageable age to accept that they might have to remain unmarried for decades in order to look after their widowed mothers or dependent siblings: And the peasant in his little acres is tied/ to a mother's womb by the wind-toughened navel-cord/ like a goat tethered to the stump of a tree (CP101)
O here is life/ without a wife/ a half potato/ eat it (CP137)
... and he is not so sure now if his mother was right/ when she praised the man who made a field his wife (CP81)
His mother... had a venomous drawl/ and a wizened face like a moth-eaten leatherette (CP84)
His mother's voice grew thinner like a rust-worn knife/ but it cut venomously as it thinned,/ it cut him up the middle till he became more woman than man/ and it cut through his mind before the end (CP94)
By verbally and mentally emasculating her son, the mother guaranteed that he could not fulfil his need for a young woman, even if he so wished. As a son often decides to marry a woman in their mother's image, the latent hate reaction to such selfish oppression would turn him against marriage. The mother firmly planted the seed for her son's sexual expressions to be those of the enforced celibate, or those of the sex-starved impotent.
Aged involuntary celibates, drained of sexual and creative energy and disillusioned by life, lost all interest in their previous activities: Maguire spreads his legs over the impotent cinders/ that wake no manhood now/ and he hardly looks to see which card is trump (CP103)
Thankfully, not all mothers oppressed their children. Many sons and daughters made it their act of love to care for their parents. Although much less common today, the tradition of staying at home to care for an aged parent, especially a widowed mother, was deep-rooted in K's people: Ten thousand curses on the heads of those who spurn their mother. Ten thousand more upon the heads of those who cause her needless pain.
In spite of the frustration and stunting inhibition induced by this tradition:... Maguire was faithful to death:/ He stayed with his mother till she died/ at the age of ninety-one./ ...and he was sixty five (CP83)
The grinding poverty of the people and the tradition that a man had to "have his own place" before seeking a wife kept the marriage rate low and the age at marriage much higher than today: In my parish for twenty years/there isn't a marriage to sneer at./... When I see the old maids/ coming along the country roads/ to be confessed/ I hear the blasphemy of the foul breast (CP197).
Small farm size and low income are still problems in disadvantaged areas to this day. Because of the undesirability of subdividing small farms, many family members have to remain celibate or leave the locality for work in the cities or abroad (MM5).
As many men married late, or remained unmarried, K's plainer women had great difficulty finding a mate. They had to make themselves "available" at social gatherings but their quarry was hard to corner: I had to dance, I had to be brave-/ and bravery is piteous in a maid./ I danced, I danced/ with dancing clowns/ I smiled and planned-/ I went to towns/ and walked main streets and fairgreen/ and saw no man but only men... (CP186)
Some women went to Lough Derg to find a man. For many, the pilgrimage was not successful:... Women, their bare legs asplay,/ lay on their backs upon the rise where grew green grass-/ they were emptied out for love that never was... (CP187)
K refers to marriageable/available girls at house dances, crossroads etc, but they seemed to be in groups. They were not easily detachable for privacy, even if the prospective lover had the guts:... but no one would take them/ no man could ever see/ that their skirts had loosed buttons (CP90)
... girls with girls/ walking to their chastity graves (CP385)
In the countryside, little happened unobserved. During the day, there was always someone digging spuds, hammering a paling-post, counting cattle on a hill or spreading dung. Or there was some old woman hanging out clothes on a bush or dragging a pail of water from a well. After dark, there was always someone out the fields calving a cow, or walking the road to a card-house or simply because of moon-triggered tension. And the country priests, relieving their own tensions, sometimes prowled the lovers' lanes with horny blackthorn sticks at the ready.
For the less inhibited men, usually those from towns rather than the country, the only chance of regular fornication (excluding the rare luck which might come one's way of a dark summer evening) was to consort with wantons and silly girls in the local house of pleasure: In Casey's house where merriment had been/ longer than scandalous gossip could recall,/ where they had drunk long and loved long/ when the factory men love-seeking left their towns.../... and you could hear/... loud laughter from the kitchen of the silly/ girls that were bastardy's delight.../... a new crop of lovers gathered in the kitchen/ and an old crop blowing down the sleety road.../... the dripping branches on the carts going home/ is a holy-water blessing this hour (CP182, 183)
K's work echoes the Grapes of Wrath in some ways but Steinbeck's peasants laughed more and were less inhibited in their amatory pursuits. One might ask where did all the rural Irish people come from? Although the marriage rate was low and the average age at marriage was higher than now, married couples had many children, not uncommonly one a year for 8-15 years. Monaghan is also famous for its turkeys, and turkeys occasionally reproduce by parthenogenesis.
The conservative philosophy of the I-RCC taught its members to "Take up your cross daily and follow Me". It held up the Holy Family (one man, one Woman, one Child) as the model for all families. It inferred that Joseph, Mary and Jesus led asexual lives. It praised male and female virginity as the ideal state and relegated sexually active marriage to the second division, downgrading the Great Commandment: that ye love one another.
K's peasants accepted the conservative teaching. The power of the I-RCC over women's sexuality was almost total. By controlling women (mothers, brides and sweethearts), the I-RCC shut off most of the options for men who might be reluctant Catholics (MM187-214). The problem of expressing sexual love was a major one, even in the case of married couples with large families. "Good" Catholics had to abstain totally from sexual intercourse or accept the possibility of a resulting pregnancy as "God's will". Even the simplest pleasures of normal sexual activity were sinful unless they were intended to lead to lawful procreative activity. K, though not as outspoken as Austin Clarke on the issue, was scathing in his rejection of that view of sexuality:... God-born clean, we desire;/ but thoughts are sin and words are soiled... (CP246)
Sexual activity outside of marriage was taboo, but if a good man fell, it must have been that Jezebel, that strap, who led him on: The boy who has not smoked or sinned/ for nearly forty days and nights.../... does not speak to the girls, he does not see them;/ he only sees what is unmortal (CP128)
... and everything that makes art and literature/ is a thing to be abhorred- impure desire (CP185)
One of K's bleakest pictures depicts Maguire opening his eyes in his grave, once in a million years:... through a crack in the crust of the earth/ he may see a face nodding in/ or a woman's legs./ Shut them again for that sight is sin (CP103)
Thankfully, there were exceptions to this dismal picture: In the glass of memory plain can see/ great iron men and the loves they seize/ and young goats praying on broken knees (CP75)
* 7. ATTITUDES TO CLERICS
... The best kind of priests are ex-priests (Sinead O'Connor, interviewed on Pat Kenny's Saturday Night Live show, December 19th 1992) ... And silken vested/ priests are clods (CP48).
Tom Inglis (MM11-32) describes three kinds of faith: (1) based on semi-magical practices and superstition; (2) based on legalism (laws and rules, obeyed under pain of sin), without dissent or discussion as to why it is so and "should be" so and (3) based on individual reason (internalised faith and principled practices according to an informed personal conscience).
(2) Examples of legalistic faith include a long list of "dos and don'ts". These begin with the 10 Commandments of the Mosaic law, 80% of which were "don'ts", prohibition of frequent human tendencies. The seven Deadly Sins are all "don'ts": don't be proud, don't be covetous etc. Observances introduced much later were: fasting overnight (later 1 hour; today no restriction) before receiving Communion; fast and abstinence on certain days (now limited to Good Friday); going to Confession and Communion at least once a year around Easter time etc. All of these observances were variable, depending on the Pope, or local bishop in power, personal circumstances. They change with culture and time. The current teachings on celibate, male priesthood and on contraception are good examples of "man-made rules" which will probably be revoked within the next century.
(3) Examples of internalised faith are: having joyful heterosexual or homosexual intercourse before going to Mass and Communion on Sunday morning; missing Mass to commune with the God of the Wicklow Hills on a Sunday morning.
Internalised faith approaches Protestantism but is prepared to listen to a teaching authority, while retaining the right to reject that teaching if it does not satisfy the reason of the believer. It places little or no value per se on semi-magical or legalistic practice, unless, they are internalised through the personal experience and world-view of the believer.
In K's time, a mixture of semi-magical or legalistic faiths was the norm. To oppose a priest was bad luck. As late as 1974, 25% of Irish Catholics still believed this (MM19) and, no doubt, some priests would not go out of their way to tell them otherwise. To oppose a bishop was nearly unthinkable and the Pope was infallible.
The power of the I-RCC in politics, social welfare, education, medicine/ nursing/health and every-day living was enormous. Dr. Noel Browne ran foul of the Crosier in his Mother and Child scheme, as did various teachers who tried to keep their private lives (sexual orientations or alcohol/drug usage etc) separate from their teaching ability.
Reviewing the Capuchin Annual in 1942, K wrote: Whenever an Irish writer wrote a book that was not in slavish yes-man agreement with their illiterate ideas of Catholicism he was sure to be damned by some scribbler who had failed to make the grade among the pagans. Who as a rule are the mouthpieces of piety here? the washed-up, the female-emotional who would die of exhaustion on the cold high hedges of real creative thought. This was the beginning of K's downfall as a "safe" man (PK404).
In 1949, K wrote: "The more I see and experience of priests and religious the more I dislike their mentality in which something is queer, unnatural, anti-cultural too. This seems to be found in all of them, and I sometimes think it springs from the enforced celibacy coupled with the feeling that they are small uneducated men assuming a large role. I do not think they are more suitable to be in charge of anything or anybody than are women" (LF141).
K was a notorious male- (Sections 14-18) and intellectual- (Section 1, 11, 12) chauvinist. Although his statement could be interpreted as sympathetic to a female priesthood, a more likely meaning is "a plague on all your houses, celibate and female". Had he lived and been unable to overcome his chauvinism, K probably would disagree with modern moves towards sexual democracy in the I-RCC. He would have been disturbed by the rapid changes in outlook that followed in the '70s and 80's. He would probably have had a stroke at the ordination of two women priests in the Church of Ireland in 1990, to say nothing of the election, that same year, of Mrs. Mary Robinson as our first woman President. I see his world retreating into Mucker fog, McGahern's dark, when earthy Women mount the Pulpit, dance in the Park!
In 1954, after K lost the first round of his libel case against The Leader, Peter met a priest from Cavan. "I hear he never goes to Mass", said the priest. Peter did not respond (SK272). That gentle warning is very similar to one cited by Inglis:... When Dr. X started to drift away from the Church openly by failing to attend Mass, his priest warned him. Now he attends conspicuously with his wife. "I must live, you know... my practice would disappear if I were branded a lapsed Catholic" (MM70). Until I read that yarn, it used to strike me as odd the number of self-employed professionals who seemed to kneel in the front pews on Sundays. I tend to kneel halfway back myself, a kind of half-in, half-out.
Many Irish poets, including Yeats and Clarke, made anticlerical remarks, especially against those of the I-RCC. K made many, directed against heavy-handed institutional edicts and against the more stupid actions of some clerics: I will make you remember me/ O simple priest./ Love forgets her dark penance/ in the dance-whirled mist/ and your prayer has the power/ a midge dares to resist (CP57)
... A country curate/ stared with a curate leer- he was proud./ The booted/ prior passes by ignoring all the crowd (CP107)
... The prior went with them- suavely, goodily/ priestly, painfully directing the boats (CP115)
(The curate)... had the haughty intellectual look/ of the man who never reads in brook or book,/ the man who has not climbed and cannot fall (CP180)
Speaking of the Devil, he wrote:... He would be on the list of invitees for a bishop's garden party... (CP209)
and on behalf of the Devil: Paddy Connemara gets my vote./ As the expresser of the Catholic note,/ his pious feelings for the body/ and rejection of the shoddy/ mystical cloak that Conscience trails/ places him among the greatest of Gaels... (CP216)
Fear-grey men of doom have kept for me/ the foot-sure grip of an ancient surety. (CP31)
I concur with K's criticism of medieval attitudes to moral authority, personal responsibility, marriage, sexuality and minor matters like that but would consider his 1949 statement to be prejudiced, too sweeping and too rough. It was the violent reaction of an alienated intellectual to the I-RCC, which he perceived as being corrupt, materialistic and interested more in maintaining power than in showing people how to love. The authorities of Church, State and the Arts had rejected him: My soul was an old horse/ offered for sale at twenty fairs (CP149). There were no takers.
Reaction to clerics who try to impose their authority on their flock by instilling feelings of fear, moral or social blackmail, inferiority, guilt and sin recurs in my own verse:... programmed by distorted teachings of the hidden God, we plead for bread, encouragement, but tight lips mutter legalities for now and hope of life hereafter... for Paddy's priests have lost their way. They use the fear of Hell and threats of dire punishment and Candle, Book and Bell to keep their faithful tightly bound as slaves to their disquiet...
K died before the outcome of the second Vatican Council led to more contact between Catholic and other religious leaders and before the swing towards an internalised, Protestant-type of Catholicism.
Human psychology is highly complex and personal, conditioned by personal experiences and on subjective and objective realities. Today, many Catholics who have a strong leaning towards an internalised faith, still retain vestiges of the legalistic and/or semi-magical roots. This may be found in graduates of third-level colleges, as well as in rural people who may not have had a second-level education. An internalised faith may be compatible with varying degrees of mysticism and belief in the possibility of spiritual transformation of the material world by undefined energies, such as prayer, telepathy, telekinesis etc.
Since Vatican Two, interdenominational services and prayer groups have become more common. But only lip service is paid to ecumenism. Rome's attitude seems to be like K's- they are all inferior to us. When they come around to our way of thinking, we will welcome them back to the fold. In October 1989, in full view of the world media, the Anglican Catholic arch-bishop, Dr. Runcie, who was in Rome to discuss reconciliation between the Roman and Anglican Churches, had to refrain from receiving the Host from the Pope in their televised Mass. He knelt with head bowed in prayer during Communion. I suspect that Christ's plea on behalf of the jeering thief ("Father, forgive them for they know not what they do") must have flashed across his mind. Although mixed marriages are more common, the decree Ne Temere still is used: ...Beyond the polite smiles, the Christmas glow,/ the awkward he's-a-jolly-good-fellow/ of the priest and vicar in Glenroe,/ ecumenism de jure and de facto/ has a long hard road to go.
Though a practising Catholic (of sorts), I reject the die-hard idea that "we" are right and "they" are wrong and that, please God, "they" will see the error of their ways and will defect over to "us". There can be basic unity without uniformity within a Church as well as between Churches: Our Shepherd is our Christ,/ always with us to assist,/ and not the transient enthroned/ in Salt Lake City, Canterbury, Rome./ His Flock is not a mindless cloud/ of identical well clipped clones/ but a motley group of heterogues/ some tame, some wild, some wily rogues./ Their types are many and varied:/ native Galway, Borris and Belclare,/ lowland Suffolk, mountain Blackface, / breeds from every continent and race,/ strangers fat and thin/ from distant Islands: Aran,/ Texel, Ronaldsay, Soay./ There are milking mules and Charolais,/ Merino, shaggy Jacobs and Angora,/ blood from Athens and Andorra/ to Zealand and Zaire./ To live and breed is their desire... (R/ECUMENISM: TWO WORLDS).
I understand Christian ecumenism to be the attainment of mutual respect, love and understanding between the Churches, with the ultimate aim of a basic unity of religious purpose and worship. It stems from the desire of Christ that there be one Fold and one Shepherd. Being a vet, my concept of the unity and uniformity of the flock in the one fold is somewhat different from that of conservative I-RCC leaders: Some sheep graze in clover,/ some in gorse and heather,/ some chew marram grass and cactus,/ some pick lichens from bare rock/ and some chew rock, suck flint and iron,/ and some, like Shakespeare's salamanders,/ eat but the air,/ the air of poverty and self-respect./ All are sheep of the One Flock./ All have their birthright/ to range the endless fold/ but selfish rams and rigs decide/ which groups can graze/ which areas in peace... (R/ECUMENISM: TWO WORLDS).
In K's time, as in my boyhood in the 1940s, there was little formal contact between the ministers of the various Christian religions. However, Catholic and Protestant neighbours maintained reasonably good social contact and helped each other in practical business and farming matters. They attended weddings and funerals (Section 21) in each others churches.
Inter-Church relations were more primitive in my childhood. Dating from the Cromwellian Plantations (... to Hell or to Connaught!), Catholics greatly outnumbered Protestants in most parts of the West. Therefore, we were right and they were wrong. Apart from economic considerations, such entrenched thinking lies at the heart of the troubles in Northern Ireland today.
As schoolboys, we were led to believe that we would grow horns if we dared to go inside the high wall which surrounded the Church of Ireland in Ballymote. To my shame, I have not done so yet but next time I go home... Meanwhile: The faith of our fathers/ is living still in those streets./ It falters, slightly out of step/ but no more so/ than forty years ago./ In my hall- and this is no laugh-/ is a blown-up photograph-/The Rock, Ballymote, 1910-/ a load of hay, waistcoated men/ ten ass-carts, pony and trap,/ dark youths, cloth-capped,/ one barefooted, in knee-britches./ A dog wriggles on his back, itches/ in the sun. Two others copulate./ Roofs of thatch and slate,/ dungballs on a dirt street./ 1988 sees cars and concrete,/ phone and power cables,/ new generations, old fables,/ computers and television masts./ But the peoples' mind fasts/ the Lenten fast of 1944/ or 1910, eating fish as before/ in the Fridays of the mind,/ fish caught in Roman waters,/ waters they claim as their own./ (That fish is off to my taste,/ left too long in the sun,/ mishandled by the mongers.(R/WHO WILL CARRY THE CANOPY?).
In the last century and, even in K's time, the Irish people had a very poor level of education. Priests, teachers, doctors and the landed gentry were the educated elite. The peasantry, rural or urban, dared not question their authority. That is changing fast. In the past thirty years, education has improved markedly and is available to most. Increased mobility, travel, radio and TV have opened up discussion of ethics and morality in the home.
However, public perceptions of Irish Catholic teaching on sexuality and the effect of the teaching on voting patterns (see the 1983 and 1986 Referenda on abortion and divorce) have changed little since K's day. As a group, the Irish bishops see procreation to be the primary purpose of each act of intercourse. As they reject comfort, mutual bonding and expression of mutual care as primary purposes of the sexual act, artificial contraception is immoral. In 1992, Pope John Paul stated that artificial contraception was immoral, even in over-populated third-World countries. He claimed that it was a communist plot to turn the people away from traditional allegiance to Christianity.
In 1985, Bishop Jeremiah Newman complained "of the way in which some Catholics manage to persuade themselves that they are faithful to their Church even though they reject some points of its teaching" (MM78). Many of our bishops would have the same complaint. They can not accept that the Church is for the people (not vice-versa) and that those of us who dissent from paternalistic interference in our private lives have reached our late mental teens. We are trying to grow up and "leave home" but we will not stray too far. We are faithful to our Church. The Irish bishops belong to our Church but do not own it. They pulled a fast one in the run-up to the 1986 Divorce Referendum but the next one may not go their way.
Today, the I-RCC remains primarily a power block, seeking to maintain its power and influence in society. It operates mainly in the social and moral spheres but with major influence on politics and economic life. It attempts to curtail individual freedom by a complex of moral and material methods of blackmail (MM5-8). Fear of being denied moral respectability and salvation is central to the power of priests and bishops in controlling what the laity do and say (MM23). But the bishops have lost a few battles in their effort to retain their moral monopoly- contraceptives can be bought legally through restricted outlets since the Family Planning Amendment Bill (1985) was passed. Condoms, spermicides and the "morning after" pill are available through other channels, such as mail-order houses, Virgin Megastore (Dublin) and Students' Unions. SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) and other groups have threatened to prosecute unlicensed outlets for contraceptives but the signs are that they have lost that war.
All authority, that of Church, State, parents, employers etc, is questioned today. Rejection of the concept of papal infallibility and increasing alienation of Catholics on the question of birth control, are common, especially amongst educated Catholics who heard the full story behind Humanae Vitae. A marked drop in the numbers going to Confession with a rise in the numbers receiving Communion show that concepts of sin and guilt are changing (Section 27). Falling numbers of students to the seminaries, convents and monasteries are the strongest warning that a Church which does not have satisfactory answers to honest questions will not survive, as in the past, on moral or material blackmail.
The haemorrhage of dedicated priests who are forced out of ministry because of a Pope's (not Christ's) ruling on celibate priesthood is a tragedy. A greater tragedy is the alienation of millions of educated Catholics for whom the only great commandments are to love God and humanity in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are still hanging in there, in spite of the hard-liners but our patience wears thin betimes.
Dusk draws in on the day of the Moral Monopoly of the I-RCC (MM215-227). But the organisation still is very powerful and individuals who try to take it on do so at their peril. Although censorship is less common today than in the 50s and 60s, there are many who would like to see a much tougher policy of censorship in matters political, social, artistic and religious. There is a belief abroad, possibly sincere, that the people need protection just as much as young impressionable children. But there is also growing opposition to the mushroom policy (let's keep them in the dark and feed them horse-shit) adopted by the Government, the I-RCC, SPUC and others.
The State Laws, which support the Irish RC bishops' stance, have fallen into the realm of the ludicrous. A few years ago, Dr. Andrew Rynne, a sincere and highly respected physician in Prosperous, Co. Kildare, was convicted of supplying a condom in breach of current laws. The authorities were faced with another Irish problem: Rynne refused to pay the fine and was prepared to go to prison for his principles. As usual, an Irish solution was found: the fine was paid anonymously, much to Rynne's annoyance. With a great sense of humour, he had the Court Summons and Conviction framed and hung in a place of honour in his loo. Beside it was a cartoon showing heavily pregnant bodies with the faces of the political and Church leaders of the day. The caption read: IF THEY HAD TO TAKE THE CONSEQUENCES, WE WOULD NOT HAVE THESE STUPID LAWS. Dr. Rynne, undaunted by the rattling of crosiers, continued his fight to make contraception more freely available. He set up a vasectomy and tubal-ligation clinic in Clane.
More recently, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), a voluntary body with very limited funds, was convicted of selling a condom through an unlicensed outlet, the Virgin Megastore in Dublin. The naughty virgin plies her ancient trade within a stone's throw of the GPO, the focus of the fight for Irish Freedom and Civil Rights. The fine imposed on the IFPA was high. It (and the threat of further fines for similar charges in future) posed a real threat to the future of the organisation. The IFPA appealed against the conviction and lost the appeal. The Court gave its decision on February 26th 1991, the day of the liberation of Kuwait City. The Middle East was going up in smoke but, supported by the Irish Courts, the craw-thumping, paternalistic morality of the holier-than-thou brigade of right wing Catholicism had saved some poor souls the extra mortal sins of wearing latex rubber while they played the oldest adult game but did not want a baby in nine months.
SPUC and the hard-liners had won the Mother of all Battles but, like Saddam, they lost the war: they did not foresee the consequences of this Court decision. Richard Branston and the rock band U2 agreed to cover the IFPA fine. Smiling broadly, Branston and Bob Geldof were photographed, arms around each others' shoulders in a very matey way, waving packets of rubber Mates. The Taoiseach, C.J. Haughey, who had been getting a very hard time on the radio programme "Scrap Saturday" in previous weeks, had had enough. On Saturday March 10th 1991, he shocked the Fianna Fail Annual Congress by announcing that the law on the sale of condoms would be changed. They would be made more freely available to sexually active adults. Bishops Daly, Newman, Comiskey and others (who do not have to worry about the health and welfare of their daughters or sons, sexually active or otherwise) beat the tattered rubber drum ad nauseam: Condoms for kids = temptation to mortal sin, destruction of the fabric of traditional Irish family life etc. Party activists and backbenchers, well aware of the power of the Crosier, began to run for cover. The Taoiseach had a major problem: how does one define a sexually active adult? Dare he rely on a Dail vote to cross the I-RCC? (Mara, gimme a Disprin. Will they never let up?).
The legal age of marriage, sexual consent and voting respectively are 16, 17 and 18. Can 16-year olds buy condoms? Do they need a certificate of marriage? What about precocious 14-year olds? Do they need parental consent or just a doctor's Cert that their precocious dicks could endanger their girlfriends' health? Should the legal age of marriage be raised to 17 or 18 in another Irish solution? The farce continues:... But, during the night,/ some crazy son-of-a-bitch,/ a PR man for the rubber trade,/ climbed the bank unaided,/ pulled giant condoms/ over the standing stones/ and lettered slogans ten-foot high/ "DUBLIN SAYS YES IF BELFAST WANTS TO PLAY"/... / It took two days to clear/ the traffic jam and only then/ could the Knights and Opus troops/ ride through to remove the heretic johnnies,/ which were excommunicated/ and drowned with quenched candles/ in the sympathetic Liffey... (R/THREE HAIL MARYS)
Apart from its stand on the more emotive areas, such as teeny-bop sex, the I-RCC has lost credibility on its unflagging antagonism to contraception. Though its moral authority is declining, it still teaches, though with less gusto than in my youth:... Mortify the flesh and guard the eyes./ Beware to love yourself/ for this, the vale of tears,/ is your way home/ and if you dare to di-diddle- dee/ you will indeed die lost (R/POLISHING THE BRASS)
Fortunately, tens of thousands of Irish women do di-diddle-dee. I hope that they enjoy it as much as I do. But men don't conceive. Selfish, feckless Casanovas take few or no precautions. In the heat of the moment, many women do not insist that their partners use condoms, or do not take effective contraceptive action themselves. The result is inevitable. Each year, thousands of women, many of them schoolgirls or unmarried youngsters, find themselves pregnant. What can they do? How can they have the baby and continue their work or study? In Ireland, State support for single mothers is laughable in comparison to the support in northern European countries. In Sweden, for example, a pregnant unmarried woman can take three years off work to have her baby and find her feet. During that time, she can draw her full salary for 18 months and is entitled to return to her old job within 3 years. Crèche facilities and other back-up services ensure that she can continue her work or study and mother her child at the same time. As we have nothing like this, it falls to Cura and other voluntary agencies to support single women who want to have the "unwanted" baby. However, the Irish solution for those who decide that they can not or will not take that option is to export the problem and let others solve it. As legal abortion is not available in Ireland, many women go to Britain to have an abortion. The annual British statistics (1982 to 1991) for legal abortions include 3500-4050 women with home addresses in Ireland. The total figure for aborted Irish foetuses is higher than this, as women can go to countries other than Britain for the services which, rightly or wrongly, they require. Also many abortions are not recorded.
Pre-1983, abortion (in the usual sense) was illegal in the Irish Republic. We had D&C (dilation and curettage), the "morning-after pill" and abortifacient contraceptives (sold as so called "cycle regulators") and IUDs (intrauterine devices) etc. We are a finicky people. While sane and sober, most of us would not dream of killing another human being, except in self defence, or in the name of misguided patriotism. However, for us, abortion is OK if it is called something else, or the doctor takes the blame, or we have it done abroad.
The 1983 Referendum made abortion unconstitutional (MM80-86). The I-RCC and SPUC played key roles to prevent its legalisation. Under the law, it was also illegal to provide information on abortion. However, information on abortion services outside the state was available discreetly through word of mouth, sympathetic doctors and student counselling services.
In September 1989, Students' Unions sold tee-shirts and distributed student guides which displayed phone numbers which provided such information. As the Court had issued an Order forbidding the publication of information on abortion, SPUC took an action against 14 leaders of USI, UCD and TCD Students' Unions to have them jailed for Contempt of Court. SPUC also sought an Order restraining the defendants from providing such information in future. In a reserved judgement on October 11 1989, Miss Justice Mella Carroll refused to find the students guilty of contempt and referred SPUC's case for a restraining Order to the European Court. SPUC appealed the decision to the Supreme Court and won its appeal. In a later decision (October 1991), the European Court found against the students: the Irish ban on abortion information did not contravene European Law. After all these cases, the students were faced with a bill for over IR 61,000 (reduced to IR 23,000 by the Taxing Master) but they had not the money to pay. The students unions continued giving such information, as needed.
In early 1992, the Attorney General applied to the Courts for an injunction to restrain a pregnant 14-year old girl from going to England for an abortion. The child had been raped, de jure if not de facto. Public outcry against this injunction was such that the Supreme Court heard an appeal. The injunction was lifted but the farce took a bizarre twist: ironically, the Court found in favour of abortion, in spite of the 1983 constitutional amendment: Justice Costello ruled that abortion is permissible up to the end of pregnancy, if the life of the mother is in danger. The right to travel abroad for an abortion and the right to information was inevitably linked to that decision. The decision and its legal implications sent shock waves through the country.
Bishop Eamonn Casey, who publically confessed to yielding to the urge of the flesh, was praised for not using contraceptives. Eighteen years later, the words "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock ..." took on a different meaning. It was the rock which wrecked his ecclesiastical career.
The Casey confession became public in the middle of abortion debate which followed Justice Costello's 1992 decision. The Irish bishops restated that direct intentional killing of innocent human life, at any stage from conception to natural death, is gravely morally wrong. Thus, abortion is immoral in all circumstances, including those of incest or rape of young girls or mentally handicapped women. They do not imply that the life of the foetus is "preferred" to that of the mother, or that the mother's life is to be "sacrificed" to save the child. The mother is not given priority over the foetus: according to their Lordships, both lives are equally precious. If the life of the mother is at stake, she may have all necessary medical treatment, even if this puts the life of the foetus at risk, but abortion is morally wrong. The mother is expected to submit and have the child, if that is the will of God. If God wants her to live, she will live!
If her husband and children love her and need her desperately, they must submit to the will of God also. The bishops seem to forget the benevolence of Father and Mother Nature: that spermatozoa and follicles are shed in abundance and there are plenty more where they came from. ... Around the globe/ on an average day/ more sperms die/ than there are rays/ from stars long dead/ in the mourning sky (OTMH).
By medieval male chauvinist logic on the issues of contraception and abortion, the bishops relegate women to second class citizenship: servile breeding machines who may not use modern methods of contraception and whose gestations must be allowed to proceed once fertilisation has occurred. The bishops and SPUC called for a new referendum to make direct abortion illegal in Ireland. They also stated that provision of information on abortion services and facilitation of travel to procure abortion were also immoral.
The abortion/information/travel issues became entangled in the referendum as to whether or not Ireland should sign the Maastricht Treaty. Following a Government promise to hold a referendum on the abortion issues, the Irish people voted in favour of the Maastricht Treaty.
Mindful of the fact that abortion was now legal under a very wide set of circumstances, after months of agonising Fianna Fail proposed a wording for the referendum that would limit the legality of abortion markedly. The PDs, their partners in Government, disagreed with the wording but did not vote against it. The wording would allow termination of pregnancy only if there was a direct serious threat to the life (but not the health) of the mother. As there was overwhelming agreement on these issues, the Government also proposed freedom to travel abroad and freedom for pregnant women to acquire non-directive counselling as to all the options (including abortion) available to them in other states.
The Government did not heed the advice given by the Opposition parties, the PDs and senior legal and medical figures that the abortion wording, if carried, was bound to be contested in the Courts. Nor did they listen when it became apparent from a number of polls that the conservative and liberal sides of Irish society would vote NO to their wording on abortion.
SPUC and Youth Defence called for NO, NO and NO votes. Fianna Fail called for YES, YES and YES votes on the three questions, threatening that a NO vote on the first issue might open the way to more liberal grounds for abortion. The I-RCC sat on the fence. The bishops were caught in a Catch-22 situation between Fianna Fail's threat and the final decision in the X-case. They had been softened up by the Casey confession and the national reaction following the granting of the injunction against travel in the X-case. Through an agreed statement, the bishops stated that Catholics could vote NO or YES on all three issues, as long as they abhorred abortion.
Senator Hanafin, a leading Knight in SPUC, did not appreciate the statement. He went with his wife to Rome to tell the Vatican that the bishops were not giving decisive leadership to their flocks. After a spate of phone calls reporting Papal displeasure, some bishops broke ranks with their colleagues and informed their flocks that they would vote NO, NO and NO. The media and the comedians lapped it up.
Then, Fianna Fail frustration with the temporary little arrangement with the Progressive Democrats, fuelled by pressures from the Beef Tribunal and claims from Taoiseach Albert Reynolds that Minister Des O'Malley had misled the tribunal under oath, led to the break-up of the 26th Dail.
The abortion referenda on abortion, travel and information were held on the same day as the elections to the 27th Dail. The people voted NO, YES, YES on the referenda and took 9 Dail seats from Fianna Fail.
Ireland has started to grow up. The new Dail will have to legislate on the conditions for abortion. The old Dail should have done so and saved the expense of unnecessary referenda.
Inevitably, the moral authority of the elite few is being rejected by many. After more than 800 years of oppression, Irish people are beginning to think for themselves and to choose their own standards of personal behaviour: Cracked bells clang false through the daylight dark of once proud Dublin city, pealing the tyranny of men who would save other souls at the expense of mind.
In contrast to the hard-line clerics, many individual priests and nuns are loving and loveable people of deep human compassion. Male and female officers in the Church, as people who front for a very difficult moral code, are soft targets for anticlerical missiles, such as K's 1949 misguided strike. Behind the dog-collars and habits, they are as human as the rest of us but with few of the safety valves that the laity enjoy.
Though K criticised clerical weaknesses and commented harshly on archbishop McQuaid's mannerisms, thinking process and failure to arrange employment for him, he acknowledged that Dr. McQuaid had given him the odd fiver many times when he was in need (SK118,178). He also arranged a private room for K in the Mater in 1956 should he need hospital treatment (SK294).
In 1956, a year after his cancer operation, K reversed his anticlerical views. In a great satire against an anticlerical book, in which the author slated the Jansenistic priesthood of the nation... (CP280), K ends with the lines:.. in far off parishes in Cork and Kerry/ old priests walked homeless in the winter air/ as Seamus poured another pale dry sherry (CP280-281)
In his early work, K praised saintly priests. Loving shepherds, they must have been a great joy to Christ in their quiet advice to His poor sheep. Fr. Mat was one of those priests: He was part of the place.../ a mud-walled house that was Truth's citadel (CP169). ... the people... ran/ to Fr. Mat who was both priest and man (CP180). Now he was with his people, one of them./ What they saw he saw too/ and nothing more: what they looked at/ and what to them was true was true/ for him (CP184)
Fr. Mat would have been a sympathetic confessor in matters of marital sexuality: Be wife, be wife, be spread/ the Holy Spirit consummates. (CP181). Thankfully, there were some understanding priests, even for those dark ages: God is good. Say three Hail Marys my son... and say one for me (OTMH)
The Catholic Church will become more humane when it accepts women and men, married and single, into the priesthood and when an equal share of votes on fundamental policies are given to women. A Church run by educated nuns and priests, with a realistic attitude to sexuality and contraception and with a listening ear to the wisdom and common-sense of the laity, will be a loving, caring, practical Church. But I doubt if I will live to see a woman elected Pope, or Canterbury share the Host with Rome. More's the pity.
* 8. ROMANTIC REALISM
Poor parish! Yet memory does weave/ for me about those folk/ a romantic cloak (CP71)
"Inniskeen is OK for health of body but awful otherwise. Socially plain hell. I just cannot communicate this to Annie. I talk to her but no communication" (LF224).
K rejected the sentimentality and wishful thinking of the romantics of the Celtic Twilight, the Gaelic-myths-and-the-happy-peasants:... O stony grey soil of Monaghan/ the laugh from my love you thieved;/ you took the gay child of my passion/ and gave me your clod-conceived./ You flung a ditch in my vision/ of beauty, love and truth./ O stony grey soil of Monaghan/ you burgled my bank of youth (CP73,74)
... thinking on Yeat's dream Great House where all/... lay drunk on the floor and in the dark/ tough louts and menial minds in the shrubberies lurk/ and negative eunuchs hate in an outer hall (CP333)
In Self Portrait, he wrote that his early life on the farm was intolerable, but later claimed that leaving the farm was the worst mistake of his life (SK347). Although K is generally known as a fearless seeker of truth, he was also a romantic. His Self Portrait confirms his lifelong tendency to view life not as it was but as he wanted it to be (Nemo).
K was ambivalent towards the rural way of life of the pre-tractor era. He oscillated between a great love and hate of the land and its people and their power to imprison the soul, the mind and the body. He wanted the best of both worlds. He loved the fields but detested rural society and hard work which killed the creative spirit (SK59). Yet, he showed how nature can free us, provided we can eliminate narcissistic self-consciousness and selfishness, i.e. lose ourselves in the flow of nature: A man must be free/ from self-necessity (CP293).
His early poems (PLOUGHMAN AND OTHER POEMS 1936) were nature poems in the Irish mode of the Revival, a movement which he denounced, and there were definite signs of Yeatsian influence (Garratt). THE GREAT HUNGER (1942) marked K's change in style to harsh realism (Garratt). But no matter how hard he tried to disguise it in harsh words, no matter how back-breaking and soul-destroying he tried to make it, deep down he loved and needed the land and what it meant to him. It was his life. He did not want to see it pass away: No man has walked the length of day/ a furrow-road without being terrified./ No man can stand on headlands who can pray/ the tinsel prayer of engines new supplied (CP37)
The old men muse oe'r bargains that were made/ in horses and in women when the trade/ of Ireland was a gypsie's caravan/ merry from town to town with beast and man (CP43)
I return to the fields/ of tillage and peace/ who have wandered and found/ no Golden Fleece/ but only a rag/ on a lifting thorn/ an ironic flag/ crow-pecked, forlorn (CP47)
... you are jealous plough, you drive the fingers/ of your lust-longing deep into the folds of my manhood./... O plough/ though I break your hold your charms possess me still (CP61)
In these small fields/ I have known the delight/ of being reborn each morning/ and dying each night (CP63)
The grass and ferns have powers/ if a man only knew/ greater than the witches of Hans Andersen (CP155)
With all its glitter, artificiality and pseudo-glamour, the city fares worse than the land in K's hands. He made it clear that he was not happy in Dublin:... and for the insincere city/ he felt a profound pity (CP260)
... thirty years.../... I would dwell in/ the heart of a terrible city... (CP342)
... a ghost world/ businessmen hurrying to their offices/... their souls locked in their cars (CP384)
In Dublin he managed to find peace along the green banks of the canals but he needed to return to Inniskeen at intervals. His early love of Monaghan turned to hate and back to love again: Ashamed of what I loved/ I flung her from me and called her a ditch/ although she was smiling at me with violets./ But now I am back in her briary arms (CP242). In 1962 he wrote: I am here in a garage in Monaghan./... There's the sun again/ lifting to importance my sixteen acre farm... (CP320).
In this, he felt the hunger of thousands of Public Service- and office- workers who travel back to their home-counties at weekends, even today. On Friday evenings, especially in summer, the droves of hitch-hikers thumbing out of Dublin attest to this and the convoys of long-distance Express buses which leave Dublin for Castlebar, Cork, Galway, Letterkenny, Limerick, Sligo, Tralee, Waterford etc are full:... Ah, Thanks be to the Saviour Christ/ who chose Good Friday to bless/ and may Mary guard the driver/ of the Ballina Express!
But another feature of many rural people who have migrated to Dublin is that they can not settle back into country ways for long. They have to flee to the city again, not just to earn a living, but because they have changed their religious and social expectations and find that rural attitudes are often incompatible with their adopted urban ones: The West is my mouth and my hole,/ my lungs and my spleen,/ my liver and my heart,/ heaven and hell of the needy one./ But through the years and up to yesterday/ I abscond there in my yearning/ but must flee again in agony/ to save and save my soul... (R/LOOKING WEST).
K aptly summed up the love-hate of the culchie for his/her native heath: Back once again in wild, wet Monaghan/ exiled from thought and feeling,/ a mean brutality reigns:/ and I.../... have to live outside civilization./ It isn't a question of place but of people... (CP321)
The poet wrote it down as best he knew/ as integral and completed as the emotion/ of men and women cloaking a burning emotion/ in the rags of the commonplace, will permit him (CP124)
Science, psychology and literary assessment rely on systematic analysis, the breaking down and tearing apart of complex things and ideas into their components, in an attempt to understand how they all fit together in the complete picture (Section 25). This analysis, unless done with detachment, sensitivity and wonder, is of itself an act of destruction, a desecration: ... we shall not ask for reason's payment/... nor analyse God's breath in common statement (CP125)
The dissected flower, butterfly, mind (or writer's work) is a sad sight. K's comic vision sensed the vulgarity of such analysis (Kennelly). He was also sceptical of "objective" science (Section 25). K was convinced that rational thought and scientific exploration are but one aspect of human search for subjective truth: Now I have to sit down and think/ a world into existence; you cannot borrow/ anyone else's... (CP296)
K knew that nothing can be known fully and that people who assume that it can commit a crime against wonder (Kennelly):... for this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven/ from the green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven (CP295)
We try to interpret the main realities which impact on our lives, whether they be material or immaterial, spiritual or of the flesh. But first, we must recognise them, see them for what they are. This is more difficult than it might seem at first glance. For example, in a half an hour's walk in the countryside, our senses can be bombarded my thousands of stimuli (sights, sounds, touches, tastes and smells). How many of those do we really notice? Very few! To avoid overloading of our nervous system, we must screen out millions of realities because they are "of low priority" at the time. Of the realities which we let through our screen, how many do we understand? Very few! Most of us are really insensitive morons, too lazy or too incompetent to really understand the truths/facts around us and how they fit into a perfect unity. K knew how difficult it is for anyone to comprehend global reality. He summed it up: "To know fully one field or one lane is a lifetime's experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts and not width." (PK15).
The fables of Plato's Cave and the Three Blind Seers and the Elephant are salutary reminders of the difficulty of distinguishing subjective from objective truth. Objective truth depends on at least one observer. Assuming that their sensory nervous systems are functioning normally, the more observers who agree, the more objective the truth is for them, in other words objective truth is arrived at by a consensus of subjective truth.
However, people who seek objective truth can be hoodwinked very easily by presentation of lies or half-truths. This is the basis of much commercial, religious or military propaganda and misinformation, as in Saddam Hussein's interpretation of the military events in the last days of Operation Desert Storm (February 23-27 1991).
Apart from making money and gaining power, the main aim of advertising and "image management" is fool the public into believing that product X is better than similar products. In politics, a new type of "handler" has emerged: the Public Relations Expert or "Spin Doctor", whose job it is to delude the public that the Party line is the correct one. Also, genuine errors and mistakes can fool the public by well intentioned gurus. The Holy Spirit must have many headaches. In the end, all truth must be subjective. (See Section 10).
K tore away the tinsel, the frilly bows, the gay wrapping paper from the parcels which he wanted to make "his truths". He exposed the cheap and priceless presents within but, in transit, even Meissen porcelain can be broken. K recognised the cracks, the flaws, the broken beauty of life, and of his own life, and said so:... Truth's insanity/ is a spell that all men must hold to; when they wake/ not even dust is left for all their striving (CP182)
Let beauty bag or burst/ the sharp points of truth may not be versed/ too smoothly, but the truth must go in as it occurred (CP110).
The poet who writes something not felt deeply usually comes across as a phoney, a wanker, a bullshit artist. That can not be said of K. He realised that nothing mattered except his own freedom and the integrity of his own imagination and impressions (Kennelly).
... The violin/ is not more real than the music played upon it (CP59)
His art is not divorced/ from life/ and death (CP14)
... O star/ of a passionate pagan's desire/ lead me to the truths that are. (CP15)
Poetry blossoms/ excitingly/ as the first flower of truth (CP21)
(lead me..)/ to the hieroglyphic stone/ on which old scholarship has proudly scratched/ a list of doors that Truth has left unlatched (CP23)
... O foul leech/ that sucks truth's blood away (CP40)
The beauty-spell of things uncouth-/ these are the marks of living truth (CP53)
... let the weeds make/ their statement for falsehood or truth./ O the agony of perpetual truth! (CP55)
Better than wealth it is... to find/ one small page of Truth's manuscript made clear (CP70).
* 10. TRUTH VERSUS FANTASY
... If truth is certainty and our world uncertain, our world is fantasy. The main certainty for us is death, the main uncertainty what then?
Thesaurus definitions of "TRUTH" and "REALISM" include accuracy, authenticity, certainty, detail, honesty, materiality, principle, reality, reason, tangibility, validity and veracity. However, they also include conviction, faith, gospel, precept, religion, teaching and trivia.
Definitions of the words "DREAM" and "FANTASY" include aberration, delusion, fabrication, fairy story, fiction, hallucination, immateriality, inaccuracy, intangibility, lie, misconception, nightmare. They also include contemplation, creativity, genius, idealism, imagination, inspiration, inventiveness, musing, talent, vision, visualisation and yearning.
Subjective versus objective truth: One person's truth/reality is another's fantasy/nightmare. Our interpretation of the world is imperfect and subjective (Section 9). It depends on our senses, our training and, to some extent, on instinct/intuition to fill in missing pieces of the image. Reason can be defective, a fact well known to those who work with drug addicts, alcoholics or psychiatric patients.
Dream/fantasy may occur in the awake state or in sleep. Dream is often the brain's way of self-cleansing or may assist in solving problems or reaching important decisions. The expression "sleep on it" has some validity. Asleep one may wrestle safely with one's fears, taboos, murderous instincts etc. Jung and Freud placed great importance on dreams as indicative of deep inner conflict between the ideal and the reality.
Dream/fantasy may be spontaneous, as in sleep, or induced consciously or unconsciously by exhaustion, fasting, mental or physical exercises, or by the use of psychoactive drugs (Sections 19 and 23).
Dream/fantasy/other-worldness (being in the world but not of it) has an honoured place in the great religious traditions, literature and culture. In parts of rural Ireland, simpletons were said to be away with the fairies or, more affectionately, to be Daoine le Dia- the special ones of God.
Conscious uninhibited fantasy or constructive reverie, often called lateral thinking, may be a source of great creativity, producing such results as art, music, literature, inventions or breakthroughs in scientific research.
The primal dream was that of the Creator, the primal force of creation, the blueprint for life:... The world began this morning, God-dreamt and full of birds... (CP225)
Dream-trance/hypnosis: In occult traditions (Section 23), thought (dream, conception, will) precedes action (foundation, construction, reality). The Spirit(s) breathe(s) the dream/idea, which may strike a number of people at the same time. Nothing is more powerful than an idea which has reached its time. If enough people want something to be (to happen), it will, at least for them. The dream precedes the blueprint, which precedes the Taj Mahal. Directed or controlled visualisation (daydream) is the most powerful tool in self-hypnosis, as practised in positive self-reprogramming and the control of stress. Children spend much time in daydreams. Unless ye become as little children... (This is My Body... for you (My followers). Amen = Let it be so). The derisive expression hocus-pocus (Hoc est Corpus... ) is used mainly by those who deny the reality of magical powers or mental/ spiritual energies and their ability to "move mountains" in the real world.
Political dreams: Martin Luther King's: "I have a dream..." spurred the progress of Civil Rights in America. Hitler's dream of the Reich lasting 1000 years was countered by the Allies' nightmare that it might. The Allies' dream was stronger then, as it was in the recent Gulf War. Apart from their inferior air- and fire- power, Saddam's army did not really believe Saddam's dream.
Sexual/sensual fantasies/dreams: The existence of succubi and incubi, evil beings who seduce sleepers and corrupt their souls, was believed in the middle ages. They may have had some foundation, as very realistic sexual dreams are common. They have definite physical effects and are often wet in males. Conscious sexual fantasies are even more common and have been discussed (Section 6).
Dreams/memories of lost/unattainable worlds: Poets are aware of the ultimate futility of human endeavour, most of which stems from the dream or hope of changing one's world: The best laid plans (dreams) of mice and men gang aft agley... (Robbie Burns).
K painted stark pictures of mental, material and sexual desperation, the tawdriness of life and absence or destruction of the beautiful: Mine was a beggar's mission./ To dreams of beauty I should have been born blind (CP59)
Though some of our dreams come to fruition, many are doomed, as we are, from the moment of conception: A thing that is beautiful/ I may know (CP1) but... every dream is caught in foils of clay (CP11)
The Warrior (Section 12) is also a dreamer, but one who dreams with open eyes:... The childlike dream on, from cock-crow to bat-flight, shut out or sanctify the pain of cruel day and hungry night. But the awakened see all- births and abortions- and, with open eyes, they choose to walk by soft or stony paths to waiting graves.
... bat-winged my dream/ over the shadow meadows (CP34)
My father dreamt forests, he is dead-/ and there are poplar forests in the waste places/ and on the banks of drains (CP26)
Truth/reality is primarily opposite in trend to dream/fantasy but the seeds of one lie in the other and the opposites of each lie in each. One can lead to the other. Dreams or fantasy can have a basis in truth/reality and can develop into it, as in precognitive dreams or medical diagnosis/healing using the inner (sixth) sense. Truth/reality can have a basis in dream/ fantasy and can develop into it, as in human endeavour in the First World to solve the problems of the Third World. One fingerless hand claps, as in most aspects of nature (Section 24).
As in Yin-Yang philosophy (Section 24), it is essential for humanity that the ambivalent aspects of truth and dream be valued and cultivated. K recognised and cultivated both aspects. He was ambivalent and paradoxical and acknowledged that fact.
Conscious fantasy, however, may be also a futile or destructive escapism, a search for romantic inner worlds which are divorced from mundane reality (Section 23). Hallucination and dissociation from the world may also occur in mental disorders and in addiction to alcohol or drugs (Section 19):... Thank God for fantasy, inspired fingers pounding organ voluntaries, electric blankets, cordon bleu, poetry workshops, a wise priest-friend and warm oblivion of Jameson and thorazine.
It is also common that the young are the dreamers/idealists and that cynicism/realism creeps in with advancing age. K's DREAMER (1930) was one of his earliest poems to be published. Of his 31st birthday, he wrote: You must grow old Paddy Kavanagh/ so dream your fill (CP24)
As in other areas of his work, K was ambivalent towards idealism. Some of his thoughts were highly idealistic in his early poetry. They had strong Catholic echoes, the search for moral perfection, the unattainable ideal:
That in the end/ I may find/ something not sold for a penny/ in the slums of mind (CP5)
But, as he aged and suffered mentally and physically, his idealism gave way to stark realism in his writing and his personal life: Open all windows./ The savage begetting brute/ breaks the delicate glass ideal/ long in a sun unsetting (CP49)
You scattered the house that I had built/ from prayer and meditation
when I listened to your ingenuous lilt-/ O empty-headed brazen! (CP61)
The idealist is a man sick for art's panacea, courting/ remote beauties. But the poet's snorting/ is for schoolgirls or large women full of drive (CP306)
This sad fool/ knew he could scoop the pool/ of the beautiful/ have a beauty of vast sexuality/ and brutality/ not the ideal but the actuality (CP308)
... there is no golden rule/ for keeping out of suffering (CP333)
His hero, Zero, chose: a sixteen year old muse/ for my muse/ for my idealist (CP310)
In a poem about himself, he wrote:... his ideal would be/ many female slaves (CP258)
Truth/reality versus fantasy/dream:... let no cheap insincerity shape his mouth (CP110). K was noted especially for his realism and pursuit of truth (Section 9). O'Loughlin states that K wrote from personal experience and not from academic or romantic fantasy. I do not agree (Sections 8 and 11). Like most people, K was a mixture of realism and fantasy. He admits this: He too was one of them. He too denied/ the half of him that was his pride/ yet found it waiting, and the half untrue/ of this story is his pride's rhythm (CP124).
Virtual reality: The pace of development of computer speed and power has been enormous in the past few years. Today, we can buy cheap personal- and arcade- computers with active memories of 50-Megabytes upwards (more than 100 times the space needed to store this book) and virtually unlimited storage capacity. Video simulation is a growing industry, with undisputed good points, such as flight simulation (used in training aircraft pilots), driving simulation (used to train drivers of cars, buses, tractors etc) and manual skill simulation (used to train engineers, surgeons, artists etc).
Video simulation has potentially destructive aspects also. The technology was used in Operation Desert Storm to train pilots to locate the main attack targets in Kuwait and Iraq. Satellite photographs of the targets were stored on computer and pilots used the video simulation to train for the real attacks.
With increased computer power and greatly enhanced graphics, computers can be programmed with accurate graphic data, such as the full optical details of the streets of Moscow. Trainee tank drivers can sit at a high-resolution coloured console in the USA to familiarise themselves with a simulated attack on the Kremlin. They can recognise the main landmarks and buildings along the route, "drive" the tank in from the outskirts of Moscow, follow the streets through complicated intersections (ignoring traffic lights), talk on intercom to other players in the game and converge on the Kremlin for the final fireworks.
On the horizon looms a reality that would have terrified K, as it does me: a computer-based virtual reality that will sap the creative energies of millions. It will make today's addicts of fantastic video games look abstemious. The technology now exists for the player to don a special play-suit. All body movements (eyes, head, arms, legs, pelvis etc) are sensed by the play-suit and relayed to the computer, where they cause the player's image on screen to duplicate the movement.
Now, the designers are working on an interactive play-suit. Before long, the player will be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell the events occurring in the game. The player on screen may simulate and experience the sensations of an active mountain walk, a deep-sea dive, an orgy in a brothel, you name it. The game is open-ended, with the direction and outcome to be partly decided by the player and partly by the programme.
Speech output is available on cheap computers. When speech input becomes available in the next few years, interactive discussions with a simulated Einstein, Steinbeck, Beckett or Kennelly will be possible. So will frank exchanges with a simulated Madame O or toy-boy. The willing sex-slave will pant appropriate obscenities in the player's ear as the heavings and palpitations mount to a climax. That will offer the safest sex this side of a triple-thickness condom, or will it?
As computer bugs and viruses are now epidemic, interesting possibilities will arise in that area. Adapting the methods used in mechanical lifelike sex-partners designed by the Borgias, as the climax approaches, the electronic slave may decide to produce a bottle of acid or a stiletto and play a different game, not quite what the aroused player had intended.
Virtual reality, in which the player can simulate any experience of his/her choosing, is about to become the opium of the debauched masses. It will pose a gigantic problem for the family, for industry, for the Churches and for society. It has the potential to relegate drug trafficking to the fourth division.
I would vote with K to curb that development: I would prefer romantic dream and fantasy to the virtual reality of today's amoral realism. But neither K nor I will have any say on the matter. Mammon has a habit of winning most arguments.
* 11. SATIRE AND LOLITA
O comic muse descend to see/ the devil Mediocrity.../... The boys go wild and toast the Joker/ the master of the mediocre (CP213)
... and see the schoolgirls/ repugnant to morals/ wait by the pillars/... the secret of pleasure/ is all you can measure (CP309)
Satire is a lethal weapon against mediocrity, hypocrisy, amorality and fraud. K used it the full on his victims (Kennelly). He railed against amorality, the selfish use of "prayer" by people who had little use for it until they were stuck; the arrogance of the idle rich; the myopic vision of the bourgeoisie; the facade of lazy, useless politician; the groupies of Dublin's bohemian fringe; the sentimentality and false image of Irish life portrayed by his peers; the pride of self-opinionated intellectuals; the double standard of lecherous but all-too-human priests; the abuse of power in all its forms.
K made "a vicious philippic on political-religious Ireland... attacked DeValera and all the crooks" (SK111). Of DeValera he said: "... a phoney on the Higher Studies (SK148) and... under... (his rule)... the whole basis of Irish society has broken down... in the course of the next ten years Ireland will probably be well on the way to its barbaric pre-historic state (SK261). He antagonised the Government: "the 1932 election, when DeValera came to power, was the greatest blow to Anglo-Irish literature..." (SK111) and Fianna Fail: "the dirtiest, lowest crowd we ever had" (SK210). And was in the days before phone-taps on political journalists, the defection of the Progressive Democrats, disremembered phone calls, Padraig Flynn's conversion to Women's Lib and export refund guarantees. Mara, get in here...
Of an art exhibition, he said (1944): "If the purpose of art is immediate sensual pleasure such as we get from drinking a glass of whiskey or smoking a cigarette, then these... painters have succeeded splendidly. But if the purpose... is to project man imaginatively into the Other World, to discover in clay symbols the divine pattern, the Secret, then the exhibition has failed. And if a secondary purpose... is to hold the mirror up to life, to be a document as well as a symbol then we may well leave the show to the children of the gombeenmen" (SK130).
K believed that criticism had to be honest. Praise was to be reserved for exceptional work, for to praise everybody was to blame everybody (SK220). Elsewhere, he defined a good critic as: one who enthuses over your good points and ignores your bad ones (PK259). Most writers would agree on that point. Unfortunately, the Irish critics always enthused over K's bad points (PK259). However, K got his own back. He was scathing in his criticism of some of his literary predecessors and contemporaries. Two of his strongest satires were THINGS NOBODY DIES FOR (CP189) and THE PADDIAD (CP212):... Dead ideas that once shocked are in the pillory/ the writers are playing with their grandmothers' frillery/ Synge, Yeats and yesterday, the fiddle-faddle/ as futile as the heros of the saddle (CP194)
... for me Synge's characters and language are offensive and humbuggish. The quality in Synge which excites has nothing to do with Irish peasants and it survives in spite of its silliness (SK163)
No System, no Plan,/ Yeatsian invention/ no all-over/ organisational prover (CP330)
Give Clarke a break/ your stupid praise of him will make/ the public here get sick, more/ indifferent than they were before... (CP154)
... and see O'Casey lost in English Devon/ who never wrote another line/ worth reading/ since he left St. George's Pocket in twenty-seven/ weaving in vain an alien material (CP247)
Referring to TOM MOORE'S STATUE: The cowardice of Ireland is in his statue,/ no poet's honoured when they wreathe this stone,/ an old shopkeeper who has dealt in the marrow-bone/ of his neighbours looks at you (CP148)
He attacked the home-base of the arts, the theatre (especially the Abbey):... I shall not give their poison-piety rein,/ and yet, I cannot praise/ honestly, these ghostly lyric plays (CP152)
Above the stinking weeds, whose life is derived from the moonlight,/ rises the phallic tower of Bohemia's temple/ the Theatre (CP227)
These satirical attacks can be seen as the reaction of a cornered animal, a defence reaction against the rejection which he received at the hands of the incestuous literary in-clique of the day: My soul was an old horse/ offered for sale at twenty fairs (CP149)
He had the knack of making men feel/ as small as they really were/ which meant as great as God had made them/ but as males they disliked his air (CP253)
... Dublin's thousand and one/ sad poets blackened my name... (CP336)
They come to Lough Derg to fast and pray and beg/ with all the bitterness of nonentities, and the envy/ of the inarticulate when dealing with the artist (CP104)
... Solicitors praying for cushy jobs.../ shopkeepers threatened with sharper rivals.../ Mothers whose daughters are final medicals,/ too heavy-hipped for thinking... (CP105)
K would not have left unscathed the village elders allegedly involved in the sexual exploitation of under-age girls in Ballingarry in 1986-87. Rose-Iris, teenage, virgin and naive, had to milk the silver from my shrunken purse to earn my thirty pieces. They learned to grieve to old men's grunts. Hugging the millstone-curse, my pallid Judas-tongue licked the Master's tear-wet lips and slipped between (R/THIRTY PIECES FOR A MILLSTONE). The ignorance and brutality of lonely old men who exploit the inexperience of rural Lolitas would have inked his pen with vitriol also.
However, he would have had mixed feelings on that topic, as he knew well enough how attractive schoolgirls are to older celibate males, like Maguire:... Schoolgirls of thirteen/ would see no political intrigue in an old/ man's friendship./ Love/ the heifer waiting to be nosed by the old bull./ That notion passed too- there was danger of talk/ and jails are narrower than the five-sod ridge/ and colder than the black hills facing Armagh in February (CP95)
The same thoughts still tempted him in the 1950s and early '60s:... the ideal pleasure.../ a young woman with eyes that spoke the old mischief (CP255)
Every red-blooded male, married or celibate, must have similar thoughts from time to time. It's no sin to glance at the menu, even if it is a day of fast and abstinence:... I hurry my youngest / to the steaming showers. / I shampoo and rinse her crown, / my boots and trouser-bottoms drowned. / Youngsters, tight-eyed at ablutions, shouting. / The boys hold no interest but my eyes / slide over the sudsy bodies of the girls. / Tomboy larvae at seven (flat chest), / budding nymphs at eleven (curve-hint, supple), / airbright fliers at thirteen (shy of nipple), / young queens at eighteen (aching virgin breast) / and me in my late forties, father-of-five, / a wingless drone from a distant hive. / Come on Ailin! That's enough. Come on! / Out of that shower. For Christ's sake, let's go home! (R/BY THE POOL AT KING'S)
I remember the first woman I met.../ fifteen she was and I lusted for her more than I could now./ Her plump young body tantalising in a gym dress./ And she told me her story. "I have been touched/ and you wouldn't want me". And I said, "By whom?"/ He was a dedicated holy man who had bunched/ my dreams of having this young maidenbloom.../ I took what he had left.../ but... she repaid my sex with sneers (CP287)
It is almost impossible to be fully consistent throughout life, day after day, year after year. The fully consistent person (whether in a positive or negative sense) is boring, predictable and prone to manipulation by others (once they recognise the consistency). In later life, especially after his illness and surgery to remove a cancerous lung in 1955, K's work became more serene and detached: The sword of satire in his hand became blunted,/ and for the insincere city/ he felt a profound pity (CP260)
Throw away thy sloth/ Self, carry off my wrath/ with its self-righteous/ satirising blotches (CP294)
He turned from satire to love and comic vision and dealt with urban life as well as rural (Kennelly, Garratt). In the late 1950s and early '60s he lost much of his fire and creative power, suggesting loss of imagination or increase in disinterest in writing (Garratt; Nemo). He had come to realise that poetry is futile after all:... A poor child's Hail Mary/is worth all the poems of all the poets (CP219)
Ambivalence in thought and action (satire/praise; amorality/morality; hypocrisy/truth) are the lot of most of us: The grille slid back to scents of body-heat and snuff. "Yes my son." Father... I feel terrible horny sometimes and I give in... "Always my son?". Nearly always Father. "You must pray my son,... Try harder. God is good. Come back next week." But I never did. Now I pay my regular bills by banker's standing order and I pay the banker what I can. (R/OUT OF THE NIGHT)
A poet's thoughts/feelings impress the reader more strongly (i.e. are more authentic) if the poet is seen to be truthful, defenceless and open and speaks from experience. The gossip-mongers who feed today's scandal-seeking media and the openness of modern life make it difficult for people with high-profiles to get away with double standards, i.e. to express one thing in public and to live a lie in their own private lives. The trick, there, is not to get caught. However, an alcoholic poet, or a sex-hunter, known to be so, can command attention and respect when he/she admits the truth. If, however, he/she tries to praise the drought or to feign carnal abstinence, the public is not fooled. K did not hide his weaknesses; he wore his broken heart on his threadbare sleeve.
Hope and despair that we (or our circumstances) will change lie deep in all of us. The wise learn to accept the inevitable. K was no exception.
* 12. PAIN AND ISOLATION
Friendless now, we/ are close to the secret of Life's Cave/ Aladdin said to me (SK8).
The pleasures of the mind are there for anyone who will pay the price. The price is loneliness and poverty (SK216).
Most poets write of the pain of isolation and loneliness: the spurned lover, the naive youth, the silent marriage, the involuntary celibate. K was no exception:... And he cried for his own loss one night late on the pillow/ and yet thanked the God who had arranged those things (CP96)
I look through my window and see/ the ghost of life flitting bat-winged./ O I am as old as a sage can ever be,/ O I am as lonely as the first fool kinged. (CP33)
The artist is often an "outsider"- outside the "safe track" of thought and action which society adopts as its norm. The non-conformist feels this self-imposed isolation keenly. The feeling usually is due to the need to share and communicate, to be accepted and loved. But everyone else has the same problem and most of us are so pre-occupied with it that we do not give the time and energy needed to let others into our lives and to listen to our brother's or sister's pain or to try to understand a different point of view. K was an outsider (Nemo) made many references to this pain and isolation: Brother to no man (CP5)
Child do not go/ into the dark places of soul.../ I have been down/ among the unholy ones who tear/ beauty's white robe and clothe her/ in rags of prayer (CP7)
Oh, Alexander Selkirk knew the plight/ of being king and government and nation.../ I too have eaten of the holy bread,/ a crust they spared for me who no name had (CP19)
Let me be beggar-wise/ that no man may/ stoop to the secrecies/ in my dark clay;/ for I have learned to fear/ all curious eyes that peer (CP25)
And I carved images/ in stone of mind/ that terrified/ children and pale priests of the Mass (CP29)
... I sit here feeling the subtle pain/ that every silenced poet has endured (CP33)
... And mystic love/ is their lot/ where love missed./ O none will remember you/ whom you haven't kissed (CP56, 57)
Make him turn his pockets out/ and his seven harvests count./ Spread out the vain collection/ not a penny of affection (CP226)
... Posterity has no use/ for anything but the soul,/ the lines that speak the passionate heart,/ the spirit that lives alone./ O he was a lone one... (CP253)
And where is home... (?)/... Can a man return/ and lie again within the womb? (CP255)
Exiled in the village of my birth/ where everyone is old and rude without mirth/ and I am thirty eight light years from the earth (CP340)
Loneliness and isolation is:... enough to awaken terrible want in heart and groin, want which does not die when darkness falls again. O God! Must I travel all the twisted roads of mind, hollow and hill, not a living soul in sight.
We tend to think of warriors as murderous itinerant barbarians from the past: Mongols, Amazons, Gauls, Zulus, American Indians, the Kamikaze. But the Warrior spirit lives. Today's warriors have many guises: mercenaries, clerics, executives, mothers, nurses, the Greenham Common women, even some poets. Whether settled or itinerant, the Warrior has to accept great mental and physical hardship and to overcome them by discipline of mind and body.
K had the Warrior spirit. He grew to accept his isolation and to identify with those in a similar position:... we are not alone in our loneliness,/ others have been here and known/ griefs we thought our special own... (CP350)
... A good day to live,/... to feel the night air/ dry my sweat, cool my wounds;/...to be utterly alone,/ yet one with all others/ who took this flint path before./ A good day to die,/... to fly unfettered/ to the fields and forests/ on the other side,/ lands no longer gore-drenched/ but.../ white and pink with maidens,/ whose tresses fan my wounds,/ whose inexperience of man/ needs a warrior's gentleness. (R/WARRIOR)
The Warrior is neither insensitive nor a wilful killer; is highly trained in self control, especially in mental control; takes responsibility for personal actions; is a dreamer, a righter of wrongs and kills only when it is necessary. The Warrior, especially the Samurai of Zen, knows and accepts loneliness as an essential part of mental discipline, is a mystic, respects life and death and fears neither: But if it must be so, then, Executioner, unmask! Let me observe your eyes, your stony face, as you do your task!
K, the Warrior, had no real friends, or virtually none, in Dublin (LF51). Peter, his most loyal friend, spent many years in America. His sister, Celia, to whom he bared his soul in many letters, was in England.
K's isolation was partly due to his uncanny knack of making enemies, mainly male. They reacted by isolating him still further. He found solace and affirmation in transient relationships with some women (Section 15): O lady of the lonely and unloved/ you are unmoved/ by the lean anguish of a poet's cry.../... and yet you wait/ to comfort me/ in my lone house of poetry (CP57)
He also found comfort in the credo of the Warrior:... to do what has to be done; to bear what has to be borne; to flee from nothing save a fearful crone; if you can hold the pass, to fight alone to guarantee your comrades safely gone (OTMH). He found special comfort in his Catholic faith, for he "found the key to the lock/ of God's delight in disillusionment" (CP124)
The isolation of the poet is given extra meaning when he speaks on behalf of the nation:... All Ireland that froze for want of Europe (CP117)
All the wild and fairy tunes, passed between the generations, are the yearning of the people for the lost ways of their natures. But the sea has crept behind us as we danced upon our memories to cut a deadly channel, leaving us in isolation-O.
Joyce described Ireland as "an old sow that eats her farrow" (SK254). Many Irish writers, including Joyce, O'Casey, Shaw and Beckett escaped to work abroad. K said: "The real reason why Joyce and O'Casey and others have left Ireland is because they were exiles there. How could they be other where publicans, race-track touts and dispensers of trivia are in authority?" (SK219).
K followed his disillusioned peers; he fled to Rome, New York (CP345) and London for a short time. But he could not escape from himself; had to face the swill trough, whether he stayed abroad or at home:... To be an exile is to be a coward... (CP223). Once again he would return to Dublin,/ where among the failures he would pass unnoticed,/ happy in pubs talking about yesterday's wits.../... to dream of the books he had written in liquor (CP224).
... Drink up, drink up, the troughs of Paris and/ London are no better than your own,/ Joyce learned that bitterly in a foreign land (CP247).
K came home for good, the thirsty farrow to the mastitic agalactic sow, who lived up to Joyce's claim: With savage slowness/ the jaundiced Sow (this mindless nation) ate her dinner./ One Master Poet less/ our emigration slate is thinner (OTMH).
Ireland joined the European Economic Community since K's time. Although communication has improved greatly, K's perception of national isolation mirrors the perennial need of Irish thinkers, artists and scientists to get away from the mental oppression of this country. They meet their colleagues abroad on a few occasions each year. Higher incomes, lower travel fares and academic junkets facilitate this. In such escape we find temporary respite, enough to ward off mental breakdown for a few more months. For most of us, however, there comes a time when we want to get back to our familiar rut, to roll in the dust of home, like a tired donkey untackled at the end of a long day on the bog.
There can be no doubt that for his courage, endurance and implacable dedication, K deserves to be admired. I hope that Irish poetry will require no such mutilated heroes ever again... but I doubt it (John Arden in PK284). A poet is never one of the people. He is detached, remote... He might take part but could not belong... It may be possible to live in total isolation but I don't understand how... (PK187). K never did find out how but his great Warrior spirit helped him to face a cruel life, a lingering death.
* 13. BLEAKNESS AND NEGATIVITY
O stony grey soil of Monaghan/ the laugh from my love you thieved;/ you took the gay child of my passion/ and gave me your clod-conceived./ You sang on steaming dunghills/ a song of coward's brood,/ you perfumed my clothes with weasel-itch,/ you fed me swinish food./ You flung a ditch in my vision/ of beauty, love and truth./ O stony grey soil of Monaghan/ you burgled my bank of youth (CP73,74)
K was a dour man, a thinker, a loner long before he came to Dublin but his experiences of city life made him even more suspicious and negative. "The wise man takes the crookedness of life and of society as a matter of course and always acts on the principle that the other fellow is trying to double-cross him" (LF50). His faith in humanity was weak.
His youth and twenties had been spartan and his formal schooling short. He had a love-hate relationship with his peasant background. His positive romantic references towards Monaghan and its people were counterbalanced by many negative references to them: My black hills have never seen the sun rising,/ eternally they look north towards Armagh (CP13)
Monaghan hills/ you have made me the sort of man I am.../ Because of you I am a half-faithed ploughman... (CP32)
K called his autobiography the GREEN FOOL. Because of his rejection by the Dublin literati of the time, he made many references to himself as a fool, dunce, blind-mind etc. He used the pseudonym "Piers Plowman" for his column in the Irish Press (Nemo).
I thought about myself and did/ not admire my talents greatly (CP297)
Child, remember this high dunce/ had laughter in his heart and eyes,/ a million echoes distant thence,/ ere Dublin taught him to be wise (CP20)
And I whom men call fool... (CP27)
I do not wonder now that my mother moaned/ to see her beloved son an idiot boy... (CP316)
Apart from self-criticism and attacking his contemporaries, he often referred to other people in negative, sarcastic terms:... but something that is Ireland's secret leads/ these petty mean people/ for here's the day of a poor soul freed/ to a marvellous beauty above its head (CP106)
... I trained in the slum pubs of Dublin/ among the most offensive class of all-/ the artisans... (CP304)
He may have been correct in his assessment of people but, when he wanted to cut loose, he certainly gave them little benefit of the doubt. He often balanced such negativity by pointing out the good in others: But there were the sincere as well/ the innocent who feared the hell of sin (CP105)
His venom was reserved especially for those who disagreed with his view of art or poetry: A little man with a little heart/ and a little talent for the poet's art/ and a little idea cramped in his mind/ where the jealousy-hatred snakes are twined (CP140)
Even before his permanent move to Dublin, K resigned himself to his vocation as poet, knowing that it would be a lonely life, devoid of joy: Winter encloses me./ I am fenced/ the light, the laugh, the dance/ against (CP60)
Knock him to the ground for he/ is your sister Vanity,/ is your brother Clown/ exhibited for a sneering town (CP226)
In the Portrait of the Artist (a self-portrait?) he said: I never lived, I have no history/ I deserted no wife to take another/ I rotted in a room and leave- this message (CP240)
I am the hoarse cry of creatures who/ have never scratched in any kind of hand/ on any wall the signs by which they knew/ the endurable stone in the phantasmic land (CP30)
I am a writer whom nobody reads, a singer of songs, a thinker whom nobody heeds, a righter of wrongs, a pale face in the throng, a desolate face, a screaming mouth, a scratcher, an eater, a hearty laugh and a weeping eye.... I am yerman next door and a terrible hoor. But I am. (R/I AM)
But in a paradoxical way, K was acknowledging the ultimate ignorance of the sage when he referred to himself as being naive, a fool, a nobody. Only the great mind can recognise its own utter insignificance. K knew that the mystics did the same: God's fool... ; Brother ass... ; Unless ye become as little children... ; Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings... etc.) and the fool/imbecile has a special place in Irish culture (Duine le Dia- One whom God has chosen. K, the Green Fool, was no fool.
Dark, incomprehensible woman... (CP38)
K's father was a hot-tempered man, was too strict a disciplinarian and got compliance from the boy by beating him if he thought that to be necessary. He gave Patrick many a thrashing for his own good (SK16,42,43). But K remained devoted to his father, even in his dotage (SK26). His father died in 1929, when K was 25.
K's mother... (was)... unusually placid and undemonstrative... never... (had)... a cross word with (his father)... nor was she ever demonstratively affectionate with him" (PK21). She was a wise, quiet, passive woman, had a powerful influence on K (SK16,42-43). A weakness of her character was to take the easy way out, a race-memory of the slavery in her blood (SK19). After his father died, his mother took complete control of the house (PK23). One year later, at 26 years of age, K made his first attempt to leave the nest. He made his fateful trip to Dublin and AE.
K had a deep relationship with his mother, as expressed in the GREEN FOOL and in his poems about her death (CP160, 161). He gave the impression that he understood women through his relationship with his mother: Through you I knew Woman and did not fear her spell (CP161)
Irish mothers often play the role of peace-maker between righteous father and wayward son. Many mothers also have the second sight, as regards death, illness or unhappiness in the immediate family. But K's mother was even more intuitive: You will know I am coming though I send no word (CP161)
I know you do not really mean what you say;/ I know a woman's nature... (CP190) but, later, he said: ... I am no mortal age;/ I know nothing of women (CP242)
Kennelly states that K had a profound understanding of the nature of love. I disagree. Kavanagh's work shows that he had profound experience of love and the lack of it but suggests that he did not understand women at all, or the "rules" by which love can be nurtured. He mistrusted women: He was suspicious in his youth as a rat near strange bread,/ when girls laughed; when they screamed he knew that meant/ the cry of fillies in season... (CP81-82)
Does any man understand women? Honest men admit that they have tried and failed. Brendan Kennelly, writing on the topic, said: "I'll begin with this stunning revelation: a man is not a woman. Can he, therefore, ever really enter her full, complex emotional being, or is he at best a sensitive outsider, an interested, even fascinated speculator on the nature and implications of her feelings? How many men are interested in this particular way of wishing to get inside their hearts, to witness and share what other men may say is simply impossible to share? I shall continue to ask these questions in my writing to try to understand them" i.e. women.
Whether we harry them, marry them and live happily with them, or are just good friends, colleagues at work, or whatever, the female psyche and its emotional expressions are foreign planets to most of us men: Can uncouth males be tenderised by feminine appeal? Can we attempt to see the world that She perceives as real?
The wise man probably tries to accept women as they are- and expects that they may not reciprocate the truce: Testosterone and oestrogen, the fighting twins, secreted from the same cells in the embryo, compete for sexual expression in body and in mind. The different responses are statistically significant, programmed parts of our humanity.... C'est la vie!
K's sexist, chauvinistic and negative references to women (Sections 15-18 also) must have stemmed from his mistrust and misunderstanding of them and from the inhibited parochial life which he lived until his mid-20s. This was compounded by his celibate, lonely life until his marriage at the age of 63.
During 25 years of marriage, I have had my chauvinistic edges somewhat blunted by contact with my wife and other friends, including feminist activists. My dilemma still remains the same as K's: ... she came to me. She tried to teach me more/ of the majesty of mind but her body distracted me./ Each time I tried to penetrate her mind,/ I saw dark eyes, silk hair, the swell of milky breasts/ and in her eyes, a smiling reprimand/ and a wistful: "Will men ever understand?"./ My mind exploded. "Yes, I'm doing my best/ but give me time to shed the ball and chain/ which keep me shackled to a buried post".
We may break our backs and balls in the effort but, like Kavanagh and Kennelly, I doubt if we'll succeed in understanding Woman fully.
I feared my mother's spell and fought it all the way, well most of the way. She knew that and accepted it in time. We had a deep filial-maternal love, in Mexican stand-off, Sligo-style. My youngest brother travelled half-way around the world to gain independence from her. She was a woman of great love and intellect, a woman to love, respect and fear, a great woman. My father was genial, shy and retiring. He was the dreamer but my mother was the power in our house. He was the provider, the willing worker bee to his queen. She seldom let him know that he was not the boss. God rest their souls.
K should have feared his mother's spell, as should his alter egos, Tarry Flynn and Paddy Maguire. In return for maternal protectiveness, mothers often seek to dominate their sons (Section 6). Many succeed, including (I suspect) K's mother. Had he fled from her spell, his adult life might have been totally different: he might have married early and beavered away at mundane work to feed, clothe and educate a brood of children like most of us. Thank God, he did not do that. His spiritual children, fruit of his Goddess, the Muse and the sap and seed of his powerful and turbulent mental loins- his poetry and his writings- will live on when I and my mortal children are crumbling dust and mud.
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