Pages of Phil Rogers MRCVS
But the poet's snorting/is for schoolgirls or large women full of drive (CP306)
K loved life. He needed to love and be loved. He needed Woman mentally, spiritually and physically "... I was in love with women- honest!" (CP313)
Heaven on Earth/ the girth/ of a woman's waist (CP51)
I hunger! Christ!/ Is it true/ that beauty has so high priced/ her kisses? (CP68)
... Men in all lands/ searching for a princess who/ spilled the last cocktail in her shoe (CP131)
Is my heart sealed/ from the ravening passion that will eat it out/ till there is not one pure moment left? (CP262)
... I will have love, have love/ from anything made of/ and a life with a shapely form/... and wild moments too/ Self when freed from you (CP294)
... my quietest conscience strove/ to deny the world's claim/ that a man has no right to rove (CP300)
I tapped.../ for the mystery message.../that would prove for me alone/ long life, long love, long roll of sexual thunder (CP332)
At 50, he wrote (to be appended to his poem CYRANO DE BERGERAC):... and from the mirror.../ the lecher looked at me/ and winked before resuming/ his priestly dignity (CP381)
K fancied himself as an Irish Lothario. At 53 he wrote that he was: quite young, quite young, and quite sexually fabled/ (but)... I failed to/ achieve myself... (CP334)
... I revert once more to those limpid arses/ which for me can give the ideal catharsis/ but the memory of what's lost saddens and embarrasses (CP315)
And those limpid rumps that he admired so were definitely female! (CP243, 340, 341):... I was always... abnormally normal/ and I probably had more women who loved me than Byron/ and pure ones all (CP341)
... I was alive and woman-haunted/ watching turning on spikey heels/ a young woman's backside. O these thrills/ can pay back us for many ills./... to praise woman's rotating behind/ God's loveliest blessing for mankind (CP341)
In spite of his attraction to women and their interest in him, but most of K's relationships were short-lived. His early conditioning and his poverty conspired to make him afraid of long-term sexual commitments. Like his hero, Zero, he knew that:... there's nothing like audacity/ for a virgin's capacity/ on no ceremony stand/ you've the whip in your hand... (CP310)
A girl came in my door/ and because I loved her she changed me (CP236)
K loved some women deeply. One of his first loves (1934) was May Crawley, a friend of Celia's (LF31). Another was Joan Russell (CP207), who died in her early 20s (CP399). K became engaged to a niece of Michael Collins in 1944 but the engagement fell through (LF82).
Another of his loves was Hilda: Unless you come/ I shall die in a ditch (CP164);... Hilda, she was the sun (CP165). But the romance died when he discovered: that "futures" are illusions filled with misery. Hilda wanted a man with a future, the sure sign of a shallow mind- or in the words of Shaw "middle class blasphemy" (LF105;SK152). RAGLAN ROAD was written when Hilda left (CP399). K took it very badly when she became engaged in 1947 to "a quack architect from Limerick... I pity the poor shit, both of them" (LF106). Peter called him "a minor politician" (CP398;SK126). They married later that year (LF119). The man was Donagh O'Malley, who became Minister of Education. Donagh died in 1968 and Hilda in March 1991. They were friends of the Taoiseach. In memory of Hilda's death, Mr. Haughey recited RAGLAN ROAD at the Cabinet Meeting before the 1991 Ard Fheis.
K gives many hints of his desire for women. K's Dublin friends were exclusively women. Men in general resented his genius and were rude to him... he remained to the end exclusively a woman's man (SK196). He "was not a libertine. He needed a girl not just for sex but for all the more important feminine attributes. The light... from an attractive girl... attracted him almost as much as the poetic thing. He loved the ideal of the female more than the reality" (SK198).
Elsewhere, he admitted that women were his Muses, his best supporters (if not his only ones, apart from Peter) and that he got much encouragement from them: Surely my God is feminine, for Heaven/ is the generous impulse, is contented/ with feeding praise to the good. And all/ of these that I have known have come from women (CP237)
While men the poet's tragic light resented,/ the spirit that is Woman caressed his soul (CP237)
... those women on their mercy missions/ rescue work with kiss or kitchens,/ perceiving through the comic veil/ the poet's spirit in travail (CP275)
... you know they are charming and gay in their hearts/ and would laugh as vivaciously buried in chaff/ as they would underneath a pink shower of confetti (CP315)
O Muse,- Deirdre, Judy/ who asked me for my autograph/ would it be possible.../ to bring me down some green lane/ of youth and health? (CP333)
When he was short of cash, Peter and some of K's women friends bailed him out. But things did not always go so smoothly. Mrs. Peggy Rushton promised to pay the rent on his Dublin flat when K was in London in 1950. K returned to find the rent and light bill unpaid and the contents of the flat taken away "for safety". He concluded that she wanted him to lose the flat (LF156, 157).
In his writing, K was sensual, self-indulgent, chauvinistic and amoral in his pursuit and enjoyment of women but many rejected his advances (Section 16). Many of his "conquests", real or imagined, were harmless visual or mental lechery, i.e. non-physical. They probably were limited to talk, cuddles and kisses, as: reason always intruded on the session/ or perhaps it was the conscience of cold climates (CP351)
In his 50's, K enjoyed sitting and watching girls, especially university students and other butterflies in St. Stephens Green. K had the age-old male torture of the wish without the will (CP316)... O unworn world.../... feed the gaping need of my senses... (CP295).
Late in life, Maguire, lost the ability as well as the desire. K retained the desire to the end but his verses and his alcoholism raise doubts as to his potency. Male impotence is a common clinical sign of alcoholism. I suspect that K, like Robert Fitzsimons (a character in K's poem LOUGH DERG) had to be content with merely talking to the girls "... as a pedant professor/ talking in a university" (CP113).
In ADVENTURES IN THE BOHEMIAN JUNGLE, the Countryman (K?) made advances to a girl half-tight, saying: "This is a wonderful world/... How about me kissing you?". Later, she queries: "Who was that bullock in the china shop?" (CP230)
In Dublin, he often walked along the Grand Canal and chatted up the passers-by. One of these was a girl "who enquired the recipe for happiness":
... we sat upon the seat and I/ I fear was acting badly/ she said that what I had to say/ and did was rather sadly/ what every fool tries every day/ and old fools try most madly (CP298)
A Russian farmer was said to have sired his 16th child at 124 years of age. Cynics reckon he had help but I like to think he hadn't. I hope to retain my eye for beauty in my old age and my ability to respond to her as the need arises. But, like K, I will have to accept my truths, sweet or bitter, as they come.
... Beware! Love's coin/ is counterfeit (CP48)
K was a sensual man, even in later life (Section 15) but he knew the fickleness of love: Realise the touch kingdom/ do not stray/ in the abstract kingdom of love (CP68)
I think to cure my love pain/ by recalling the many poets who have been/ spliced on the ecstatic blade/ till from each divided body a man and a maid/ walked forth in the sufficiency never frustrated... (CP11)
(Love)... You have possessed me.../ I walk around the jail-parade ring till your third degree bruises/ are a bloody net around my loins... (CP46)
Though he desperately needed Woman and love, K was as acutely conscious of the transience of love as he was of the transience of life. He was a pessimist, expecting love to fail. Anticipating his own old age, he wrote: ... I should have known that love is but a season (CP164)
Autumn I'd welcome had I/ known love in Summer days./ I would not weep for flowers that die/ if once they'd bloom for praise (CP53)
O cruel are the women of Dublin's fair city/ they smile out of cars and are gone in a flash/... but she passes by me/ in a frost that would make Casanova prudent (CP315)
And I can trace the line/ curving divine/ from your neck to heel../ Great God above/ must I forever see as in a glass/ the loveliness of earth, the girls that pass? (CP54)
Thinking of the mean reality of middle-class life/... all of them embittered with a second-hand wife (CP259)
He is as honest about his failures as he was about his successes in the amatory arena (Section 15):... O roses/ the old man dies in the young girl's frown (CP73)
... I was a broken man/ thanks to an Irish girl/ who smiles but is true to the plan/ taught her by old Gummy Granny-/ you must try out your power with a smile... (CP261)
... the women I was to meet/ they were nowhere in sight (CP261)
... love-lost years later/ the lovely lady I could not get her/ she gave me the brush-off- the creature! (CP317)
... but time's long silver hand has touched our brows/ and I'm the scorn of women... (CP380)
His romantic failures were not all due to his rejection by women. He told how he was "done out of" a girl:... not as before by a professional priest but by/ the frightened artisan's morality./... She, a shopgirl of nineteen or less/ became infatuated by the old soldier,/ the wide-travelled, the sin-wise (CP305). Her boss saw to it that K was deprived of his prize.
Above all, it was woman as the luxuriant/ rotting of souls/ coming down to ruin him... (CP255)
K was scathing on the topic of women who were attracted by writers: Irish women spirituelle/ ran from race-tracks at his spell/ left the beds of jockeys, actors... (CP217)
He castigated the bohemian women on the fringes of commerce, literature and art:... From the depths of rotten vegetation can be heard/ the screams of drunken girls./ The gabble from Schools of Acting, Painting, Music (CP227)
However, he appeared to have had considerable success in that department himself (Section 15). His work was tinged with cynical self-laughter on the topic of women who fall for poets:... I've had women call on me who would/ no more call on a businessman than on/ a monkey in the zoo./ It was the weak will they loved... (CP218)
... the fanatic lure/ for women of the poet's way... (CP243)
... precious little... was worth mind storage:/ the images of half a dozen women who fell for the unusual,/ for the Is that Is and the laughter-smothered courage,/ the poet's (CP296)
He was:... worshipped by models from beaches and heiresses flush/ with money and looks and beautiful abandon... (CP300)
The baker's daughter- did I love her?/ her figure like a turn-over.../... And many another dame un-used/ to the mind of a writer smiled, bemused/ never knowing how ungentle/ how brutal and elemental (CP210)
... sucking smiles from every slut,/ sure that this is Heaven's high manna-/ God is good to Patrick Kavanagh... (CP226)
He could be brutal, sexist and elemental towards women in general: Sour is he as spinster's mouth/ at kissing time or time of praise,/ his well of gladness dry, the drouth/ of desert knowledge in his days (CP21)
The no-good dames/ tattoo my flesh with the indelible/ ink of lust (CP22)
... as sweetly kind/ as a lovely woman's mind/ exciting the lust for power... (CP272)
He listened to the lie that is a woman's screen/ around a conscience when soft thighs are spread (CP89)
His sister grunted in bed./ The sound of a sow taking up a new position (CP88)
His sister Mary Anne spat poison at the children (CP97)
I hear/ the throat-rattle of dying men,/ from whose ears oozes/ foamy blood,/ throttled in a brothel (CP21)
(He)... saw among the loud cold women one who/ was not a holy biddy/ with a rat-trap on her diddy (CP109)
... for such was their necessity/ for the holy orgy/... all to be present with each other at a deflowering (CP256)
... past the sick-faced whores/ who chant the praise of love that isn't/ and bring their bastards to be christened/ at phoney founts by bogus priests (CP275)
Talking of Northern (probably Belfast/Newry) women coming on the train for a day in Dublin, he wrote:... from the train/ at Amiens street come gin-and-bitter blondes... (CP139). He could almost have been prophetic about the bra-burning libbers of the 1960s, who, with full media coverage, returned to Amiens street waving condoms purchased in Belfast.
And on the topic of social and commercial Parnassus he wrote: It is not cold on the mountain, human women/ fall like ripe fruit... (CP257)
Bleak, negative attitudes to love and relationships were common in K's work. In that dark emptiness the love of others dies: So for all men is love/ a heady lie./ So do all men meet love/ a passerby (CP12)
Love/ the heifer waiting to be nosed by the old bull (CP95)
Don't ask for life, the monk said;/ If you meet her,/ be easy with your affection/ she's a traitor/ to those who love too much/ as I have done (CP116)
... he cannot see his own interest/ tawdry marriage at best/... I am Fate/... I will give him a wife/ and a houseful of strife (CP309)
K was a "male chauvinist pig" in the true spirit of John Wayne but his chauvinism may have been a reflection of ignorant male attitudes of his day. In 1942, Peter's diary records: "... we met two Jews with whom we discussed the question of how it comes that nice girls are always dumb" (LF66).
... for all his admiration and appreciation for them, K denied women an existence independent of men (Vivienne Abbott in PK306). In-vitro fertilisation and cloning of female cells by biotechnological methods were pure science fiction in K's day. That is no longer the case. There is a real possibility in the near future that, fully independent of men, women of the true Amazonian spirit may be able to choose to live and reproduce females only. The idea would have terrified K, as it does most men. It is ironic that male cells may be cloned as successfully as female cells but that males have not yet found a way to gestate the male embryo independent of a receptive female uterus.
K made few references to women poets, although he does give women credit for being Muses to many poets, Yeats and himself included: The Poet is a man twice/ as much alive as any other man,/ his time wounds him more deeply than/ it wounds the common/ man or woman (CP152, 153). "Women are wise in their generation and in their instincts, but when they abandon their perceiving bodies for their soon dried-up brins they become intolerable. The body with its feelings, its instincts, provides women with a source of wisdom but they lack analytic detachment to exploit it in literature" (PK124). Referring to Austin Clarke, whom he lambasted, K infers that Poet is Male. Elsewhere he said of Clarke:... a sincere man... who has written many verses of excellent merit (SK217).
He danced with the red/ even money to bed/ but no maidenhead/ He danced with the black/ who will fall on her back/ for a twopenny smack... (CP309)
... women in light dresses/ how I once jealously feared for them under the printed cotton/ limp unresisting to any man's caresses./ I would have one of my own... (CP331)
She looks a good thing./ There's something to be said for the common bitch,/ she's had not virtue's jealous-gripping power/ such/ as the good woman who can devour/ a man's mind and entrails, spit/ his chewed-up personality out to on the grass/ while her hungry thought goes screaming, howling wildly/ for a soul, a soul to fill a gaping space./ For here is the stuffed tiger of Desire... (CP230)
Our women are humble as dust,/ they suck the hard crust,/ they suckle our children, and we/ drink the milk of love's mystery (CP44)
Simple love warm and kind/ in the country I'll find/ a daughter of nature young and sweet/ who has never learned city deceit./... Who has never read the books that make/ women motherhood forsake (CP51)
Come down (you called) and play with us/ contemporary games,/ come down thou star-struck octopus/ not virgins we but dames (CP62)
... Talking loudly of Kitty or Molly-/ horses or women? wisdom or folly? (CP87)
God help us! Men with such harsh, negative, chauvinistic views should not be surprised if they fail to win the love of woman: And I came down and my house came down/ stone and slate and rafter/ and unhoused I wandered in woman's town/ beggared by woman's laughter (CP62)
Male chauvinism still grunts in the pigsty today in urban as well as rural Ireland. (Ask female Trade Union activists about the percentage of women who get promoted to top jobs. Ask liberal nuns about their views on women priests and their "power" in church structures and politics. Ask your local golf club if women can be full members. Ask the personnel officers in any large organisation for the percentage of female staff in senior posts, as compared with the percentage of male staff in similar posts). Due to even greater feats of ignorance, such views were the norm in K's place and time: Men are what they are, and what they do/ is their own business (CP257)
Apart from the tape-recorded interview with an unknown university student, in which Mr. Brian Lenihan's mature reflections were made public just before the 1990 Presidential election, chauvinistic attitudes by some Fianna Fail handlers to women may have cost them the election. The Mna na hEireann were not impressed and Mrs. Robinson (Mary Bourke) was elected. The first woman President of Ireland had the last laugh. The days of male chauvinists in the Republic are numbered, thank God.
Unfortunately, women can be their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting male chauvinism. The Sisterhood of Woman falls far short of the Brotherhood of Man when it comes to action and moral support of their own kind. For instance, female friends of mine made some of the most savage remarks made against our new President. In contrast, male friends tended to be more supportive of her. After the publicity surrounding the exposure of the Bishop Casey / Annie Murphy affair (1992), a higher percentage of my women friends sided with the bishop, whereas most of my male friends sided with the woman and the bishop's son. If and when our women can stand firm together with liberated men on women's issues, the male chauvinists of our paternalistic Church and society will have a tough time indeed.
K said of himself, in marked likeness to Maguire:... you are not homosexual./ And yet you live without a wife,/ a most disorganised sort of life./ You've not even bred illegitimates/ a lonely lecher whom the fates/ by a financial trick castrate (CP243)
Peter said that K wanted more than anything else in the world the means to get married and to keep a wife. Between 1940 and 1967, many women would have wed K but he chose to remain unmarried until 1967.
In 1947 he wrote: "I have no permanent woman except the Flynn one and she is crazy about me. No interest. The generality of women here are insufferably middle-class, respectable, out for security and boredom... I cannot afford a woman who can't keep me. None of these could do that" (LF120). "I have no women except the ones I don't want and the poor ones. I know Maeve McCabe but she is no use to me" (LF126). After Hilda's engagement, K admitted that: "most marriages are a success!" (LF105). In 1948, K wrote: "I do hope that TARRY FLYNN brings me a rich wife... I know a beautiful woman but, alas, no dough" (SK159). He had found a beautiful and sensitive girl named Margaret O'Carroll and the thought of his inability to marry her drove him to desperation (SK182)... "Met a very rich young female... Didn't work... have been depressed... I missed narrowly getting a rich young wife... No woman. A country in which a writer as good as me cannot get a wife is not a civilised country, is it? I need one" (LF133 and 135).
Robert Greacon, who lived with K in Raglan Road (1943) is quoted: "I think he was somewhat afraid as well as respectful of women" (SK124). Yes, but he was also very disrespectful of them.
Although K was ambivalent and frequently negative towards women and marriage, he expressed regret for failed love. In SONG AT FIFTY he said:... had idled to a void/ without wife or child.../ In other fellows' wives/ I lived a many lives/ and here another cries: my husband I despise/ and truth is my true/ husband is you (CP263)
He contemplates, with black humour, what he had missed by not being married:... But they have the last word- he scarlet Jag,/ house in Foxrock and wife and kids;/ my only home is in a poetry mag/ and hell! I still have got those laughing fits (CP277, see CP335)
... in that winter.../ there were possibilities/ for love, for South African adventure, for fathering a baby... (CP293)
Here with my whisky in front of me/ I think of the successful with their houses/ and their wives and children and motorcars/... and I am genuinely envious... (CP335, see CP277). Two years before he died, he wrote:... the void growing more awful every hour (CP335)
Faring better than Maguire (who became impotent in later life and never married), K was almost 63 when he married Katherine... (April 19th, 1967). Peter argues that K did not marry earlier because he was too poor to support himself, let alone a wife. I do not believe this. Poverty has married destitution millions of times in the past and the best marriage relationships are not based on cash. K, talking to himself, said: "You needn't tell me you could-n't have married on account of poverty" (SK217). The reason(s) had to be other than that. Was it his ambivalent fear and negativity towards women, his own ambivalent self-hatred or alcoholic impotence? I suspect it was all three, but I may never know. K died 7 months after the marriage, on November 30th of that year.
Peter seemed to turn a blind eye to K having females visit him in his flat. He once asked K if he had considered having a mistress as an antidote to loneliness. K replied that he did not hold with that sort of relationship. Peter did not approve of K's marriage to Katherine. He wrote that K "had gone through a marriage ceremony in Dublin". He gave no details of Katherine, nor is there any entry in the index of the SACRED KEEPER under "marriage" or "Kavanagh, marriage".
In a typical appreciation of his brother's wife, Peter reviewed a published interview by Elgie Gillespie with Katherine in one word: nothing (PK446). Peter was K's Sacred Keeper in life and death. He, who had supported K financially, morally, emotionally and intellectually through most of K's chaotic career, had no contact from K after the marriage. That was sad, almost unbelievable. Eaten bread ...
Had K lived, it would have been interesting to see how he would have voted in the 1986 Referendum On Divorce:... Now we can part/... My heart/ is sealed against you/... And now the field of my love is empty and needs no gate (CP205).
I suspect that K might have voted as did many friends of mine: they voted NO when their heads and hearts voted YES, as in the Politician's reply: What does it matter what I in private feel/ There's such a business as the public weal (CP202). This is the ultimate cop-out. The hard-line bishops endorse and praise such mental obedience as loyalty to the teachings of the True Church. This slavish mentality, which smacks of schizophrenia, beggars Irish politics and social life. It makes a laughing stock of the fight for Irish freedom and democracy within a pluralist Europe.
* 19. ALCOHOL AND GAMBLING
But Kavanagh, the dog/ took to the grog.../... he rambled/ drank brandy and gambled (CP328)
Alcoholism is the plague of Irish poets, artists and writers. One might argue that to reach the top, alcoholism is almost mandatory. It is a major occupational hazard, as artists tend to congregate at parties and in pubs to compare notes, criticise and generally discuss their woes and problems. The pubs are bursting at the seams with unwritten masterpieces (Kennelly).
K refers frequently to drink and was aware of its effects on his life and work. Alcoholic poisoning, probably with liver cirrhosis and brain damage, hastened his death.
Peter said that in 1939, K did not enjoy drinking and drank little (LF46). He was given the 1939 AE Memorial Award of IR 100... and didn't even stand the committee a glass of porter each... explained by the fact that Patrick was a teetotaller (at the time) (SK71-72). The Sacred Keeper's explanation sounds hollow to me: my teetotal friends (admittedly few in number) stand their round with the best. The truth is that money stays longer in one's pocket the longer one's hand stays out of it. K lived in an era when the key to survival was "waste not, want not". The adage "look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves" applied throughout Ireland at the time. My maternal grandfather drummed these ideas into me. He wasted nothing. Table scraps went into the mash for the hens. Sour milk was used for baking. Scraps of twine were tied carefully and wound into knotted balls for the rainy day. Old bags, newspapers, nuts and bolts, scraps of metal etc were hoarded carefully. Broken window-glass was cut into useful smaller bits. Even old shoes were kept: he used strips of leather from them as makeshift hinges for out-house doors, or (if he was in a good mood) he gave us the odd tongue to make the leather stone-holder in a catapult. But my grandfather bought his round of drink, or stayed out of the company. I try to follow that also.
By 1942, K was not averse to whiskey- Peter packed a bottle for K's trip to Lough Derg (CP394). An article in The Bell by Larry Morrow implied that K's reputation as an heroic drinker was well known by 1948 (SK229-230).
Sometime after 1952 (after the Kavanagh Weekly folded, when he realised he was outcast by his contemporaries, K wrote: "I am working... not for the present generation or for posterity but simply if I do not I'll be lost. I did not know then the whiskey alternative" (SK176). This implies that by then, he knew its anaesthetic properties well. He was dipping in and out of Lethe.
Peter said that K's drinking was very light until after his operation for cancer in 1955 (SK228). After the removal of his lung, he used seconal and whiskey to kill the pain (LF51). From then till his death in 1967, his drinking was compulsive but Peter says that whiskey was K's anaesthetic. He does not say against which pain but isolation and sense of failure can be a great pain to the spirit. Alcohol is not the best solution for that pain. It is not even a good physical anaesthetic, else why was it replaced by modern methods for surgery?
K hit the bottle hard on his 6-month American trip in 1956 (SK301,309) and was blotto at parties and was refused his seat on the reviewing stand of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, New York, as he had had a few too many before the parade (SK303-307). In 1963 he wrote: "Gave up alcohol some time ago but have to take a little again" (SK369). "If anyone ever had the curse of the drink it was Patrick. It destroyed more of him than Dylan Thomas". He had drunk himself to senselessness before a Press interview during the Congress of European Writers in Rome 1965 (SK307). In 1965, on a return visit to America, he got through a quart of whiskey a day plus seconal (SK357). Peter, in letters to Inniskeen (1966) wrote:"... Patrick is... drinking alcohol like a fish.... it takes two years off the booze to undo the damage caused by alcoholic poisoning... it means he has not long to live... He knows all this... so... It is quite sad" (LF281).
The Palace Bar (Fleet Street) was the main meeting place for artists and writers of K's time. It was nicknamed the Malice Bar, to reflect its artistic clientele, who were "full of poisonous fellowship" (CP224). K's heavy drinking reduced the output (LF235) and quality of his work, allowing his contemporaries (Larkin, Logue, Mac Neice and others) to get on with theirs (CP328): Give me an excuse to stop/ go out to the pub for a scoop (CP337)
Dependency on alcohol or drugs is often a symptom of subconscious conflict, associated with feelings of sexual and professional impotence, negative self-image, poor self-confidence, loneliness or the existential feeling of the futility of all human actions. It may coincide with mental or physical pain. The subject may have latent suicidal tendencies and feel that:... you will have to drink/ to fill the huge emptiness of sorrow (CP296)
Some see alcoholism and drug abuse as a form of self-destruction more socially acceptable than, for instance, hanging oneself from a tree or jumping off a bridge: Christ, how ideas tumble and drown, to resurface like corpses in the Belgian Devil Beer. In those dregs I see the sway of a noose, a loaded shotgun, a parapet dark over swirling water.
Although K seemed to have great self-confidence in his own voice and validity as a poet, in spite of his rejection by many (O'Loughlin), I believe he had poor confidence in himself as a man and as a social being. He admitted this in one of his later poems: When I am gelded by great cowardice/ afraid of the sound of my own voice (CP340)
O break, cold heart! Thou'rt lost/ for want of wine./... And pallid is his brow/ whose darkened soul is mine (CP371)
People who are serene or at peace with themselves do not need to savage themselves or others but K expressed many negative references to himself and to other people, especially women (Sections 13, 16, 17, 18). His bleak, negative outlook, combined with a sensitive nature and a need to be recognised, loved and understood, must have been cause and symptom of great inner conflict and self-doubt. He admits freely to his weakness for drink:
4 I B/ 0 T T (for I be/ no tee-totaller) (CP139)
In the corner of a Dublin pub/ this party opens- blub-a-blub-/ Paddy Whiskey, Rum and Gin/ Paddy three sheets on the wind... (CP212)
... I trained in the slum pubs of Dublin... (CP304)
... the plain truth is that I drank/ more than would kill a New York yank/... the whiskey bottle I loved like mammy (CP312, 313)
I was in the rats/ alcoholic poisoning.../... Kavanagh, you've drunk/ a barrel of whiskey in the last month (CP345, 346)
... while I threw/ back large whiskeys in the corner of a smokey bar/ and if only I could get drunk it wouldn't be so bad... (CP349)
He, as do most heavy drinkers, regarded dependence on alcohol as a curse but said: It is not my purpose to preach/ the curse of drink... (CP341). He recognised the futility of pub-talk solutions to life's problems:... The students were all savants by the time of pub-close (CP94).
That pub image was too easy, almost as common as the poet's fear of mental impotence. Sooner or later, most poets touch on those topics:... Ageless problems and double-think/ have been discussed and solved in drink./ It was so from the drunken day when Adam, (the savage),/ fermented apples bruised by Eve's ravages,/ to the day before the Ides of March,/ when Caesar's comrades toasted their monarch:/ (Good health, wealth, immortality),/ right up to midnight yesterday,/ when I divined in utter certainty/ the capture of Saddam on Sky TV/ by a jubilant Commando squad/ of Allies, led by a disguised Mossad./ Hard truth doth fantasy subvert./ So much for the pub and armchair expert. (OTMH).
Like many talented people, K drank savagely, knowing that ultimately it could cause his death. This is common among alcoholics: Self-judged as useless, worthless dross, self-sentenced to slow suicide - the penalty of one who cannot love the self despite love shown by others - he drank his penance, cursing every drop. (R/THE HEALER)
Although noted for the realism of his work, he found it impossible to come to terms with the realities of his own life. He tried to escape in the bottle but there is no escape from the self: In the pubs for seven years/ men have given him their ears/ buying the essence of his heart/ with a porter-perfumed fart (CP226)
Go into a pub and listen well/ if my voice still echoes there (CP252)
... You were tight to be sure and you kept using/ terrible language in the presence of the ladies/ you pissed in your trousers and you were puking on the floor and knocking over drinks on tables... (CP286)
Escapism in alcohol or drugs (more common today than in K's time, and affecting even children in their teens) may give temporary relief from depression, pain, and self-recrimination. To a heroin addict, his horse can:... transport him above the clouds of pain, weight-less, effortless, in dreamy, floating peace through imagined skies to countries of the mind, soaring, swooping, gliding free to kingdoms, mindscapes of the blind, where he was crowned a few sweet hours free of loneliness.
Depression, nervous breakdown and schizophrenia may accompany alcoholism: They do not always shout from midnight pavements, call from pay-phones in a drunken haze, or cross the garden wall to stalk the darkness. The most dangerous prowlers skulk within the fort at night, swim the culverts of the mind, eeling silently between the depths and shallows, spectres savage, feared, unseen,...
Medication, whether prescribed by oneself or one's doctor, seldom solves personal problems. There is always a risk of dependency (common in patients on valium) or of overdose (especially on heroin): As pigeons heralded that Christmas morn, a wino woman scavenging the quays saw Horseman crumpled where he died, syringe and needle by his side.
More often, running away or refusing to meet them head on compounds personal problems: Dream on, my priceless, fragile friend! May the dream- inducing poppy-juices keep a joyful smile on lips full with Black Bush sadness, in eyes dark with Beaujolais pain. But know that all dreams must end, as the poppy wilts, or the bottle empties.
Gambling: For most of his life, K was hard up for cash, if not flat broke. He liked to back horses and his usual bet was a fiver, a lot of money in those days (LF53, 281). "When the favourite is a mad odd-on chance the best bred of the others is a wise bet. I have proved this time and again... The most important element in a horse race is the horse... and... (its) breeding... you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's lug" (PK127,128).
K's skill in picking winners was useful: "Without a permanent job, no writer can survive long... if it hadn't been for a few quid I won on horses I'd be on the rocks utterly..." (LF153;SK207). ... I don't think I ever became truly addicted to betting... it is a form of disease or sin... The real immorality of gambling... (is not)... the getting of easy money but in the way that gambling is lived by the sensations (SK201).
But he seldom referred to gambling in his poems. One reference suggests that he was a careful gambler:... I'm not the person/ to back a horse that can't accelerate (CP319).
In a fine piece of comic writing, as apt for today's punters as it was in K's time, he describes Maguire's futile wager, based on a tip from a man "who should know":... He wagered a bob each way on the Derby,/ He got a straight tip from a man in a shop-/ a double from the Guineas it was and thought himself/ a master mathematician when one of them came up/ and he could explain how much he'd have drawn/ on the double if the second leg had followed the first (CP93)
Messrs Guinness commissioned K's poem, THE GAMBLER, for 20 guineas in 1961 (LF287). It dealt with the vagaries of life and love, not with backing horses:... the poet-artist... missed/ the secret of love- the gift/ of the poet's knowledge that is subject to no sporting/ chance on a wheel. (CP306)
Here we go round the mystic wheel/ dancing a wild Gaelic reel/ gambling on the ideal (CP307).
Knowing the odds were stacked hopelessly against him, K took the three biggest gambles of all: he gambled his hopes of early marriage on Mind Woman (a variant of the Tarot cards); he gambled his dream of an honest world on The Establishment (a twitchy bitch) and he gambled his life on Smoky Water of Life (a vicious nag). The cards dealt were lonely drates above the five of clubs and spades; the bitch savaged his dream and the nag pounded his lungs, liver and brain to pieces. He lost all bets.
* 20. WAR AND STRIFE
My noble Lord, as thou has't commanded, I have poisoned thine enemy's spring, slashed the udders of his cows, sown cockle in his wheat, hamstrung his horses, raped his women, slain his sons!... Well done, well done, my good and faithful servant! Well done!
K was a big strong man, not averse to a punch-up, even in his 40s (LF156). But he was anti-war and was uneasy about the build-up of troops in Europe in the 1930s, as indicated in LISTEN (1936):... not a tune/ for soldier-maddened feet/ but an air like peace and fullness in garnered wheat (CP32).
He referred to the Spanish Civil War: One with the savages/ and the insane/ O War, that did ravage/ my virgin Spain (CP47)
In CHRISTMAS CAROL 1941, he was bleak about the outcome of World War 2:
I see countless stars/ and countless stars see me,/ but no one sees the Star of Peace/ in the East cloudy (CP79)
... Only God thinks of a dying sparrow/ in the middle of a war./... then there was war,.../... the ideologies of the daily papers/ they must seem realer, Churchill, Stalin, Hitler,/ than ideas in the contemplative cloister./ The battles where ten thousand men die/ are more significant than a peasant's emotional problem./ But wars will be merely dry bones in histories/ and these common people real living creatures in it/ on the unwritten spaces between the lines (CP115)
Those lines were written in 1942, "when the Germans were fighting outside Rostov" (CP123).
Peter said:... That the Germans sank 10 ships as well as the Ark Royal did not bother us too much. What concerned us was literature, finding Patrick a job... and trying to ration our money... (SK71) and:... In May 1945 the war in Europe came to an end. The excitement it engendered mattered nothing to either of us. Our war continued (SK131). That was the war on want and the war against the establishment. The Crooked Knight (K) had a vocation since his youth- to fight against the infidels, Untruth and Charlatanism (SK143).
Even so, it is surprising that K did not write more on the topic of other wars and strife. Many of his references to World War 2 were oblique or muted, as if he accepted the neutral stance of Ireland and he decided to leave it at that:... Then I saw the wild geese flying/ in fair formation to their bases in Inchicore/ and I knew that these wings would outwear the wings of war (CP130)
He must have heard Lord Haw-Haw's radio broadcasts and of the strategy of commanders who used squadrons of tanks to break through the enemy lines, as the following lines suggest: The Twelfth of July, the voice of Ulster speaking.../... and young men out of Ulster who will dare/ to drive a wedge in Dublin's Lounge Bar panzers (CP139)
... in this corner of peace in a world of trouble (CP147)
K was especially averse to indiscriminate destruction and would have abhorred the use of napalm, nerve gas and toxic chemicals and biological warfare, had he lived to see their use: A bomb can kill twenty men at a time/ it is bombs and cannons that count./ This is surely the end of the world/ but it was a war between good and evil/ and victory looked like being with the devil (CP189)
K recognised the futility of war:... there are more important things than war/ all the things that nobody dies for (CP189)
... in days when "The Emergency" was no poor cow in labour/ but war most awful threatening the world and our neighbour (CP267)
His fear and concern during the early part of the War were in contrast with the apathy or sheer self-interest of his rural neighbours: An unmusical ploughboy whistles down the lane/ not worried at all about the fate of Europe... (CP33)
and again:... Oh yes, I agree/ the war is no great benefit to you and me;/ the ships are sinking a holy living dread/ it will break the world (CP77)
... And after that they went on to the war, and the generals/ on both sides were shown to be stupid as hell./ If he'd taken that road, they remarked of a Marshal,/ he'd have... O they know their geography well. (CP93)
... and yesterdays paper/ passed across panting bellies, fluttering/ hands reached to catch the stale news of war/ what earth toy were earth's men fighting for? (CP187)
The Troubles North and South: In spite of nationalist leanings, K wrote little on The Troubles in Ulster. In THE TWELFTH OF JULY (circa 1943), he referred more to World War 2 than to the Nationalist-Unionist conflict.
His other references to the Troubles were veiled or satirical: God's blessing on all who listen to me,/ to all who listen. But to/ closed ears be an Orange drum/ a-beating and what falls due/ to fools in the Kingdom Come (CP33)
Here comes Seamus O'Donovan- against the British menace/ (he) fought when (he) was younger in the War of Independence:/ encouraged the national language, too old (him)self to learn it/ and if (he) got a pension, who says (he) didn't earn it.../ my face as you can see is clear-marked old IRA.../ no man who ever fought for Ireland goes quite bald (CP267)
His relative silence on the Northern problems may have been because they were rather low-key from the '30s to his death in 1967. That is not the case now. Since 1969 the death toll in the Troubles has been ferocious. In the 20 years to 1989, more than 3000 men, women and children people have been shot or clubbed to death like seal-cubs, or blown to smithereens more professionally than the Rank's building in Limerick. As an Irishman, I am sickened by the carnage: When her wild music slides from major to minor, her tragedy, her history of blood, wails of brother killing brother, of sister informing in tears for bread for a hungry child.
Lambeg drum, rattle and thrum. Fife and flute. Bowler and sash. Tramp to the Finaghy Field.... Pigeonholes: Feckless bastards. Breed like rabbits. Taidghs. Fenians.
... Uileann pipes skirl at Bodenstown. Kilts. For Ireland. Brits out. A Nation once again.... Pigeonholes: Bloody Sunday. Pigs. Black Prods.
Murdering bastards. Occupation forces.
Balaclavas, car-bombs, bricks. Sandbags and barbed wire. Dawn swoops. Choppers static in the sky. Tricolours, Union Jacks unfurl.
Had he lived through the Northern Civil Rights campaign from 1969 onwards and through the Dublin bombings in the 1970s, he would have protested against injustice and wanton murder, for he:... exposes all the guilty men,/ the selectors of the team (CP330)
And in safe houses, friendly hands, which bear no stains of victims' blood, pour cups of tea for silent visitors with hunters' eyes and savage hearts.
Others kicked in the kitchen door and, as wife and children watched, bread and jam halfway to open mouths, caved in his skull with paving stones... Similar priests of death fucked the body of Christ behind a wall in Enniskillen town, doing this in memory of 1690, 1916, 1969, a black consecration in my name and yours. (R/NOT INJURED)
Take down th'ould fiddle, Sam, play a tune of the glens, an ancient tune of joy before I shoot you down. I'll take down th'ould fiddle, man, play a tune of the glens, not a tune of joy but a requiem for your clan. (R/AFTER ENNISKILLEN)
The Gulf War: Irish reaction to the horrors of the 1991 Gulf War echoed the basic unreality of that carnage for us in the same way as our parents' apathy to World War 2 was depicted by K. We sat up at night, watching scuds and patriots on Sky TV, feeling the shudder of the battleships as the obscene Cruises launched, hearing howling sirens, seeing the carpet-bombs defile the sky. We whistled at the staged technology, watching guided missiles sear to the cross-hairs down the air vent of a factory, as the jubilant commentator chortled "Go baby, Go!". During the breaks for ads, we made tea or had a leak, then climbed back into our armchairs. We absorbed the allied double-speak: casualties were remarkably light (our lads were lucky today but the enemy was wiped out); collateral damage (hundreds of women and children massacred); terminated by friendly fire (some eejit killed his own comrades).
We sat and saw and heard. And we saw the aftermath: the Kurdish and Shiite revolt and its outcome; the flight of the Kurds to the mountains and their massacre by bombs, bullets, hunger, exposure, diarrhoea, cholera and despair. We felt powerless, nauseated. We made mute protest when the victors imposed an embargo on movement of goods across the Iraqi border and thousands of Iraqi children died of malnutrition and gastroenteritis. The children reaped the sins of their fathers yet again. Deep down, in spite of all the talk and the few quid thrown towards Concern or the Red Cross, we didn't really give a shit. No bombs fell here and there is far away, only a surreal Rambo film, tomato juice on well paid actors' clothes. Next day we went to work or to the pub as usual, keeping a wary eye on the price of petrol.
I would love to read K's thoughts on those events: Forget Your troubles, Boss! We could be in the Gulf and lost!/ Yes Mara! Saddam's peoples' troubles/ are their own. What do warring Kurds/ and wailing rebel Shiite fighters/ (stick-stoning Iraqi hi-tech might)/ know of Our troubles here:/ kilotonnes of angeldusted striploin steak,/ staunch Party hacks who get bad breaks;/ Newry, Armagh, Crossmaglen,/ hunting grounds for gun-crazed men;/ the Birmingham Six about to go free/ and they won't play ball with me;/ Belfast and Loughgall. And kinky/ mint-flavoured, Union-Jacked frenchies/ on Tricolour juvenile dicks./ And... Jesus mercy, Mara,/ what a crowd of lame SPUC pricks./ Though Saddam's way of dealing with dissent/ is sound, it's not for the Irish temperament./ Why do they torment me, Mara? Why?/ Sure only yesterday,/ a Dundalk trigger-happy cowboy/ bolloxed My last Ard Fheis,/ called for Irish troops to blast/ British choppers from the border skies/ if they incurse Our sacred lands./ I stemmed his anal ramblings/ with one cold look. (Mara! See/ that the half-wit gets a second-hand TV,/ or one that's smuggled from Strabane./ Tell that mindless little man/ that I know all about choppers and image and war./ Tell him I've got many SAMs in store/ but the bloody Brits have thousands more./ And tell him that it's limey heavies/ who pluck Our drowning poachers from Our seas)./ Got that Mara?/ OK Boss, good as done! (Bejayzes, this'll be some fun).
And Mara! My good friend Patrick/ (the Poet Kavanagh-O'Hockey) tricked/ us all. He wronged us, fiercely slated/ us as a sad sad nation/ of honest godfearing gobshites,/ farmers and small shop-keepers/ with cows and customers to milk/ and throbbing tractors, tinkling tills to tend./ But he was wrong, Mara, very wrong./ We are a proud and complicated throng/ of parochial, provincial nationalists,/ with international, universal pretensions..../ God, that's poetic, Boss, pure poetry from The Patron of the Arts!/ Thanks, Mara! That's the key, the best one yet!/ Poetry readings at the next Ard Fheis!/ That's the very catalyst We need,/ a literary weekend guaranteed/ to rally Our defecting troops!/ Perch Kennelly on his tightrope: Oops!/ We might tempt Heaney into Our hopper/ if sonny can fly My rescue chopper./ Find Durkin, fartin about in Russia./ Try Sheils, translated by de Rossa./ But Kavanagh, Boss? Don't forget Kavanagh!/ Yes Mara! We must mourn this Nation's Loss!/ But who will read the Mediocre Liar's albatross?/ Forsooth! Professor Gussie Goose of course!/ And phone my friend, Professor Michael D,/ to plain-chant the epilogue with me,/ to the anthems of the Furys and the Tones,/ whose warrior cries melt flesh from cowards' bones/ and to the magic pipes of Liam Og O'Flynn,/ whose ancient tunes turn cowards into men again./ Go out! Bring in My hacks and burnt-out plants/ who live by My Arts Council grants./ Let Gill & Macmillan, Tom Cobley et al/ set up their stalls in the Simmonscourt Hall/ but bar those arty narcissists and self-print plotters/ who've blotted and dirtied their homework jotters./ Leave them gold-struck and ravin' out in the cold,/ diggin' and shovin' to wing to the fold./ Let them tout their thin books and paranoid looks/ in parkin' lot crannies and parish hall nooks./ Got that, Mara?/ OK Boss, good as done! (Bejayzes, this'll be some fun). (OTMH)
Nuclear War: After Nagasaki and Hiroshima, K was aware of the development of nuclear weapons but his only reference to that was in relation to the poetry war, in which he would use a megaton bomb (of his poetry) (CP329).
Against the horrific backdrop of nuclear stockpiles, the possibility that nuclear weapons may be used by psychopaths, or the possibility of computer error starting World War Three, it would be easy to despair for the future, to give up all hope of changing the world for the better:
... now a darkness comes which will not yield to nightlights or wishes, loving or moans. Its blackness broods in the depths of hidden silos.
Eagle's piercing eyes blinked twice./ Then came the utter desolation to come./ (And come it will, of that there is no doubt,/ as selfish devil-man must use his clout)./ The Bombs rained down in thousands:/ London, Moscow, New York, Bonn,/ Peking, Detroit, Berlin, Rome,/ Sydney, Baghdad, Delhi, Tokyo......./ Megaton on Megaton multiplied by M./ Eagle saw it all. He saw the earth explode./ He saw the soil turn glass. He saw the sky go black./ He saw the ice-age come, the death of all green life./ Cold famine stalked the earth./ He heard the screams of the unlucky ones,/ the living dead. Mad human beings/ devoured human flesh and dog ate dog/ and day was night on mountain, plain and bog./ Foul death-stench filled the air/ and in a global groaning wail/ the damned and dying sobbed the Dies Irae/ of hopeless dreams.
In spite of the break-up of the Soviet union and the reduction of nuclear stockpiles, the future for humanity is bleak. It always was bleak, for in the end, we all must die; the only question is when. However, there is hope that higher forms of life will survive the inevitable use of nuclear weapons. Nature abhors a vacuum and, if the love and care of God never existed, Nature may bounce back. Somewhere in a God-forsaken valley a potent Adam and a willing Eve may survive: Eagle blinked again and gave the eagle's scream, not of fear or hate but of simple welling joy because he saw some more: he saw another dawn when gentle rays of golden sun poured through again. He saw new creatures at their work. New life is hard to stop. Young farmers tilled their fields and watched their crop and Eagle knew the meaning of the wheel.
K's attitude to war strife and chaos elsewhere was: "... I know that behind the headlines, beneath the contemporary froth and flurry, the tide of humanity flows calm" (PK48). That universal observation typified the parochial mind. Little has changed today. Blacks starve in parched plains. Kurds die slowly in snowy mountains. Indians are exterminated by big business along the Amazon and by alcohol in the American reservations. The arms trade is taking order books for more powerful, lethal and stealthy weaponry. The hash and cocaine trade booms. The world economy is hopelessly in shreds. Meanwhile, the rest of us mutter and talk but do little. It's business as usual.
* 21. DEATH AND FUNERALS
And I can tell/ that birth and death/ are nothing so fierce/ as the preacher saith (CP63).
Death and funerals feature in most writers' work. K did not fear death (LF52). When a friend visited him in hospital in 1955, he said: "Very likely it is cancer and it will kill me, but to tell you the truth, Marthe, I don't give a shite" (SK279).
In his time, acceptance of death was easy and natural, with no fuss about it: Over the kind brown earth we bend/ knowing how warm a grave must be/ in October. O Death send/ in October-time your warrant for me (CP65)
K dealt with death in an easy way, tinged with realism and humour: "You were a good woman", said the priest/ and your children will miss you when you're gone (CP99)
Mary Anne came away from the deathbed and boiled the calves their gruel (CP99)
Maguire is not afraid of death.../... he'll understand the/ quality of clay that dribbles over his coffin./ He'll know the names of the roots that climb down to tickle his feet/ and he will feel no different than when he walked through Donaghmoyne (CP103)
The tongue in his mouth is the root of the yew (CP104)
Death was as easy as harvest in Seola (CP179)
To be dead is to stop believing in/ the masterpieces we will begin tomorrow (CP223)
Most Irish people believe that "we are only passing through", hopefully to better things. Thus, an easy attitude to death still exists in Ireland today. We have no hang-ups about accepting and discussing death: Mick Gildea(1) fell off the stool/ mildly struck. When he came to,/ he asked the lads in the bar:/ Well whack it! Where am I?/ He was in Heaven, I swear./ None of them knew (R/ECHOES IN THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MIND)
(1) Mick Gildea was a well-known handy-man in Ballymote, my home-town. He was very popular, a deadly shot with the double-barrel and deadlier with his barbed wit. Mick enjoyed his pint. A few years before his death, he was having his usual Batty Cryan's pub when a mini-stroke toppled him from his high stool. He lay unconscious on the floor of the bar for a brief moment. When he came around, to see the anxious faces of his co-patrons, his first words were: "Well, whack it, where am I - am I in Heaven or Hell?" None of the men in the bar were angels but some of them may be saints yet. Mick, God Rest him, probably is.
In K's time, as mentioned in Section 6, many a devoted son took his mother's death as a blessing in disguise. "God never shut one window without opening another". It allowed him the possibility of bringing a young woman into the home as his wife. Today, our young and not-so-young farmers need not wait for their mother to die. Thanks to the EC, the old ones can retire on pension and leave the larger farms to the young. In the case of small-holdings, a son who sees little future on the home farm is unlikely to stay there.
K said that respectability and the rise in the price of whiskey killed the old-fashioned Irish wake (Warner 1973). As wakes were festive celebrations of death, and some ended up as orgies of drink, fisticuffs and sexual sport, strategic belts of the Crosier enforced respectability again (MM20,140). I would add a third lethal factor: increasing materialism in society. Time is money now; once it was a means of allowing human contact; now the trick is to be seen, shake hands and slip back to work.
Though the marathon wake is all but extinct, the mini-marathon survives. The corpse-house, especially in rural areas, is usually full on the evening of the removal and after the burial service next day. The only introduction needed to guarantee the stranger a whiskey or two and a good feed of ham and salad is that he/she was a friend of the corpse: Life must go on, as the widow said on the night of the wake, when tobacco lay cut on white plates and the pipes were stoked and the barley talked and friendly hands shook her sad hand to the strains of a jig in the other room. (R/THE NIXER'S VAN)
The most common Irish attitude to death and funerals is the same today as in K's time:... At the grave the prayers were said./ Hands as big as Hymac buckets/ dwarfed the mourners' hands/ and tall ungainly men/ stooped to whisper a soft word./... Ye must come up to the house./ Now, there'll be no excuses.../ So we did, with a hundred more,/ people who might never make the record books/ for work efficiency but who realised/ the things that matter most,/ who take their time to say hello/ and linger at goodbyes. For they know/ the hush of the esker mocks the rush of life./ They know and laugh. (R/ESKER SCENE)
There can be a humorous side to death and funerals- the stranger who follows the wrong funeral and does not realise it until he has drunk loudly to the memory of his good friend John, when the widow gasps: "You mean Tommy Joe!"; the lop-sided old hearse that breaks down on the road, conveniently near a pub with a phone; the coffin that won't go down because the grave has been dug too narrow; the tanked-up grave-digger who greets the mourners with a merry "Well, isn't it a grand day for the job!".
In many rural Irish areas Catholic and Protestant corpses are buried by choice in separate cemeteries, or in separate parts of the local cemetery. But it is not always a matter of choice: in 19??, bishop Jeremiah Newman is said to have refused permission to the family of a lapsed Catholic (who had joined another religion) to bury the corpse in the Catholic graveyard at Croom (??), Co. Limerick:... White and bare in clay,/ disarticulated bones,/ mouldering rags of shroud,/ are all that remain/ of dancers and singers,/ hobblers and weepers,/ lovers and haters/ saints and sinners./ On shaded earth, lepers of the dead/ shake alms-cups, ring bells,/ (unclean, unclean,/ outside graveyard walls./ In blessed Irish clay/ Catholic rag and bone/ may not be soiled by rag and bone/ from the other lot./ In Sonlit heaven, if there be one,/ Quakers dance with Hindus,/ Buddhists with Catholics,/ while humanists and atheists/ clap in disbelief./ Yellow slant-eyed saints/ with names like Fung, Lin, Wang,/ occupy the sunny places/ as white-faced bishops growl. (R/UNCLEAN)
Some close relatives of the dinosaurs survived the last flood and will probably survive the next. I suppose it's logical that Christian ecumenism should be ignored in death, just as it is ignored in life (Section 7). That is my adopted Church, God help us.
* 22. TRAGI-COMEDY
"The quality that... terrified ignorant people... fear is the comic spirit, for (that) is the ultimate sophistication which they do not understand and therefore fear" (PK185).
"tragedy is underdeveloped comedy" (SK106) and "some crucial/ documents of sad evil... may yet/... fuel the fires of comedy" (CP296)
K's writings suggest that he was a dour man: I have changed now and try/ to have charity/ for myself. O hell!/... to have learned after/ fifty years so little of laughter,/ how the infinite absurd/ alone can contain the live word (CP337)
So I cannot come to the point of my rhyme/ except that humour's the major crime/ and art's the swindle which calls the tune (CP345)
There are some passages in K's poems which made me uneasy and unsure of his motives. On a first reading, especially if read in isolation from his other work, they seem to be spiteful, negative and unloving to his characters. Could they be comedy, masterfully disguised as bitterness, satire or whining? After all, he also said:... all true poems laugh inwardly/ out of grief-born intensity (CP274)
K is so sympathetic to the plight of the hopeless poor in other passages, that I attribute many of his apparent negative "lapses" to deliberate tragi-comedy: O he loved his mother/ above all others./ O he loved his ploughs/ and he loved his cows/ and his happiest dream/ was to clean his arse/ with perennial grass/ on the bank of some summer stream;/ to smoke his pipe/ in a sheltered gripe/ in the middle of July-/ his face in a mist/ and two stones in his fist/ and an impotent worm on his thigh (CP83)
That passage is jet black comedy if seen against the total backdrop of K's work and his own personal life. From another angle, Maguire was right and wrong at the same time. Perennial ryegrass is softer than rough paper (there were no tissues available to him) but young leaves of Timothy grass are much softer. In spite of masochistic Church teachings ("If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee), I also think that Maguire was unimaginative to try to solve his sexual frustration by wishing impotence on himself.
So Maguire got tired/ of the no-target gun fired/ and returned... to the fields once again/ where eunuchs can be men/ and life more lousy than savage (CP83)
There is a savage anger in these lines, mixed with blackest humour. Else-where, he satirised more tempting targets, such as the filthy rich:... Money! money!/ Money has no interest for me, my ideal/ is my country prosperous, my workers paid/ each Friday evening.../ (Voice from the back: Shite!) (CP195)
Of a Bohemian bottle party he wrote:... Young women are being led from the main room into bedrooms.../... a number of early middle-aged women... trying to sow a catch-crop/ of passion/... Necessity Number One is not unavailable in this/ country.../ (American visitor) If there is no sex, what good is my shillelagh?/ (Travelman) The situation is improving daily.../... bodies in varying states of futile lechery (CP228, 231)
In a parody of Who Killed Cock Robin, he wrote of the massacre of Joyce's work: What weapon was used/ to slay mighty Ulysses?/ The weapon that was used/ was a Harvard thesis (CP239). K would smile with irony, mixed with considerable pleasure, to see that his own work would suffer the same fate as Joyce's.
New life, new day./ A half-pilgrim saw it as a rabbiter/ poaching in wood sees/ primeval magic among the trees (CP113).
Paganism slumbers uneasily under Celtic skin: Christianity never made a captive of the Celtic imagination (PK55). Leave Christ and Christlike problems and you'll be/ the synthesis of Gaelic poetry (CP248)
Maybe he will be born again,.../... Will that be? Will that be?/ Or is the earth right that laughs haw-haw/ and does not believe/ in an unearthly law. (CP104)
Paganism places great store on nature, the earth, conservation of natural resources, acceptance of natural phenomena. Spirits and gods/goddesses are attributed with power over natural phenomena: water, fire, thunder, rain, sun, moon; the spirits of the Hearth and Home etc.
Prayer, worship and meditation were directed towards the spirits, or towards the material manifestation of their power- hence sun and moon worship; sacrifices to the sea and the forest; festivals of spring, summer, harvest etc.:... I knew the speech/ of mountains, I could pray/ with stone and water... (CP40)
And you who have not prayed/ the blackbird's evening prayer/ will kneel all night dismayed/ upon a frozen stair (CP64)
The sun was shining that day/ as he shone for the Tuatha De Danann (CP49)
I am like a monk/ in a grey cell/ copying out my soul's/ queer miracle./... I would be a bluebottle/ or a housefly/ and let the monk, the task/ in darkness lie (CP60)
We the athletes/ of Destiny strain/ towards a mean clay-god/ for a crow n in vain (CP41)
No one will be able hereafter/ to boast a souvenir of once beauty/ The firmament crashes rafter after rafter/ sin and sorrow and virtue sooty./ And no one will be able to say/ "I remember dawn's laughter/ God was in the beginning anyway" (CP55)
I want by Man, not God, to be inspired (CP59)
The great Christian shrines, churches and cathedrals were built on or near places of pagan worship. Many of the places of Christian pilgrimage were originally sacred, or "places of power", in the old Irish culture. "Holy Wells" flowed healing water long before the Christian era, having been discovered by the ancient methods of divination. The rural customs of "Garland- or Pattern-" Day merely substitute Christian prayer and ritual for the pagan custom which required the people to climb a mountain on certain sacred days to worship the sun. The current Irish "Catholic" custom of hanging beads, scapulars, "holy" medals etc near shrines and "moving statues" is merely a variant of that of tying a strip of cloth, a symbol of the supplicant's petition, on Holy Trees. The latter still survives in rural Ireland. It is very similar to the far-Eastern custom of writing petitions on strips of paper, which are pinned to flutter in the wind or burned in an urn at a Buddhist shrine.
... the Gospel was printed over an older writing/ and its damnation was crawling under the Host (CP173)
"No miracle had ever taken place at an Irish Christian shrine... All the miracles were pagan miracles and touched with pantheism. Magic lone bushes, hungry grass, sacred mountains and wells. God was in nature" (PK55).
That may be but the occasional miracle still occurs at our holy shrines. My mother told me that a specialist diagnosed me as totally and permanently blind in one eye when I was four years old. There was nothing he could do. My mother brought me to the Virgin's Shrine at Knock, said the ritual rosaries and blessed the affected eye with Knock water. The blindness had gone by the time we got home. I can not vouch for the facts, but I remember visits to eye specialists in Sligo and Dublin and having an operation on an eye in a Dublin hospital: "The boy's left eye is blind"./ The specialist took his fee./ Mother prayed the Memorare,/ countless rosaries, novenas/ but my left eye saw darkness/ until the day she took me/ to Knock in east Mayo./ Wheelchairs, crutches, vacant faces/ circled the basilica. The lame/ hobbled barefoot in the rain./ Prayers and pleas ascended./ Few were cured but, that night,/ when the dallog was transferred/ to my good eye, I snatched/ the hidden pins from the floor,/ or so my mother said./ She had great faith.
Many other countries, once Pagan, later converted to Christianity, are today reverting to materialism and hedonism. This is very obvious in Iceland, whose culture was interwoven with, that of Ireland from the 10th century: Keflavik, Your soul is gone, sold for coke and junk to Caesar's Pentagon. Rock on, rock on, Keflavik rock on. Thor, Vulcan, Christ never existed anyway, you say. Rock, earth-child, rock, that's all there is, you say. Rock on, rock on, Keflavik rock on.
K gives us a poignant reminder of the conflict between Christianity and paganism in his poem LOUGH DERG. That lake washes a small windswept island, said to have been an early settlement of St. Patrick (himself a character of doubtful historical authenticity). A basilica and basic accommodation for pilgrims has been built there. The faithful visit the island at least three times in their lifetime to pray, fast and do penitential exercises for their sins, or to plead with a busy God for various favours. One of the penitents was a nubile woman: "I renounce the world", a young woman cried./ Her breasts stood high in the pagan sun (CP107)
Even Fr. Mat was ambivalent towards the old pagan culture. This is a strong reason why K and his people, on behalf of the Celtic Irish, should love and be proud of him. He combined pagan and saintly characteristics:... a proud people/ proud of a parish priest whose words begat/ old music in the silences (CP182)
Those hills that were always swinging their beauty in-/ Original Sin-/ Oh the screaming children on the greening ridges,/ the trees that were before the Cross was sawn,/ were worthy to be worshipped (CP172)
... Fr. Mat walked among/ his cows that evening dreaming of a song/ that Christ had closed the window on (CP167)... The priest moved on. He swung/ his blackthorn at a pebble of the sun (CP168)
... ancient Ireland sweeping/ in again with all its unbaptised beauty (CP174)
But this that once a miracle is now/ to Fr. Mat the abominable symbol of/ the Golden Calf (CP183)
As is the case with all thinkers, K often questioned if life had any meaning which can be discerned by human mind: Mind is a poor scholar/ O blind mind/ when is spun your chilly firmament/ souls nothing find (CP12)
The occult (see also Section 10) is based on dualism (white- black, good- evil). Adepts choose the left or right path, both of which are powerful. They pray/meditate in the belief that concentrated thought is concentrated energy and can cause the desired effect to happen, if only by bolstering their own self-confidence and resolve. Calling in the heavies, benevolent or malign entities, can potentiate benevolent or malign human thoughts.
With the swing away from traditional religious practices in this century, there is increasing interest in divination and other occult phenomena, especially in the past 20 years. Apart from powers vested in the spirit world, paganism and the occult traditions recognised special powers in certain natural phenomena. People could harness these forces for good or ill. One could draw healing power from a tree, an underground stream, the wind etc.: It is there! Earth force! Life force!... Feel it flow: pins and needles tingling, Kundalini spreading. Scalp, neck, back, arms, trunk, loins, legs electric. Feel the Power and hold it within (R/PEACE OF THE SHINING STARS TO YOU)
Fasting, dancing to exhaustion, meditation, crystal-gazing, self-hypnosis by repetition of mantras and other methods were used to induce a trance-like state for certain rituals. These effects are probably due to increased levels of endogenous morphine-like compounds which these methods induce in the brain. Similar effects occur in schizophrenia or after use of alcohol or psychotropic drugs (narcotics, LSD, mescaline, peyote, marijuana etc). The result is a varying degree of dissociation from the real world- in the world but not of it- to a world of fantasy. This dissociation is one of the prerequisites for great art or madness.
K was aware of thought transference or telepathy, as he referred to his mother's uncanny sixth sense. However, in spite of his sensitivity, he referred little to occult traditions or ritual magic: In her sanctum an adept gazes at crystal fire. The prayer dream grows, water-cries and claws for birth. In the next village, the cripple walks, laughing madly.
K does not seem to have been deeply into positive thinking, whose principle is that if one wants/believes enough, the desired result often follows, as in the valid Irish proverb: "mol an oige agus tiocfaidh siad (praise the young and they will come)":... Harsh words, sarcasm and spite drive out the elfin, childlike sprite. Frowns and shaking heads can turn us into quaking clowns. It is so easy to destroy the child in each of us. But not so easy to create a quiet, conscious sense of worth, so vital for the growth of human joy and lifelong peace... We can choose the happy or the gloomy path in our transit through this life.
Occult traditions teach, as does the Judaeo-Christian: "As you sow, so shall you reap". ... Thought and Word are straining hounds./ Once unleashed, they track and course/ the distance of the universe./ They nurture life or inflict savage wounds./ By day they turn their master's chosen game./ At night fall, they return/ (often matted in dried mud, torn,/ bloody, thorned, panting, lame)/ home to their lair. They paw and gnaw/ on parboiled heads and other gory chow./ They gorge as hungry hounds know how,/ then circle down to rest in the tangled straw/ synapses of their slipper's demon mind/ or wag their tails and nose his godly hand. (R/TWO HOUNDS)
Negative thoughts produce negative effects, hence the use of curses, spells, voodoo etc in occult, pagan and satanic rituals. Sections 1 and 12-19 have discussed K's negativity to himself, to women, to his literary contemporaries, and to the slavery of the land. His negative attitudes and the ill will they engendered in those whom he attacked may have had adverse effects on his health and happiness.
loser of the self to others is, through others, finder of the self (R/HAIKU)
The face of truth is often most truly reflected in the mirror of folly (PK403)
Oriental philosophy is based on concepts of Qi (Energy, the vital or life force) and duality- the interplay of equal and opposite forces, positive (Yang) and negative (Yin). It holds that all things in nature, whether material or immaterial, depend on interplay of the Yin-Yang aspects of Qi: Chained by a leathery navel cord to sweet-and-sour earth and pulled towards the celestial by fierce magnetic force, must our soft centres rip apart on that cosmic rack? Between the foolish and the wise, man lies. Between the glowing stars and groaning ice, man lies. Between laughter and tears, man lies. God-Satan fights in him. Hope-despair lurches his heart. Love-hatred savages his mind. Nun-Harlots turn his head and in a vital world many living souls are dead.
The symbol of Qi/Yin-Yang is the Monad, a circle divided in halves by a wavy line, so that it resembles two fish, circling head to tail: Two fish fill the circle. Lovers circle and clinch and fall into the circle. A tireless snake swallows its tail. Where is the rattle, the venom? Hidden away as potential energy, to please the child, or put the demented out of misery? Atoms and universes show the power of revolution and Einstein proclaimed ex cathedra the dogma of the unity of matter and energy. So to infinity are the Word, the Flesh and the Light interchangeable. Nothing is lost, nothing gained in the endless cosmic dance. Hexagrams from ancient yarrow sticks, or from random number generators, point the ultimate reality: change is the source and end of all. Change is revolution! Wheels roll on; all is change and nothing changes anyway.
How many city-dwellers have seen the sharp line of demarcation between the north- and south- faces of a Toblerone of milled peat in the Bord na Mona bogs on a frosty January morning? The north face (Yin, cold) is white with frost and the south face (Yang, warm), bathed by a weak sun, is brown. The dividing line between the two runs along the top of the Toblerone. It is an amazing sight when seen for the first time but is shrugged at, as something absolutely natural, by those who know the bogs. It is one of the best examples of the oriental concept of Yin/Yang for visual display.
K may not have seen milled peat but would have seen clamps of turf which exhibit the same phenomenon. He was aware of nature's laws. In describing the North facing side of hills, he wrote: My hills hoard the bright shillings of March/ while the sun searches in every pocket (CP13)
Yin (material, solid) and Yang (immaterial, ethereal) are merely different forms or states of energy. These realities, depend for their definition on each other. Yin (passive, female, cold, winter etc) and Yang (active, male, warm, summer etc) can not exist without each other. Yin and Yang depend on each other and transform (change) into each other, returning to the original state. Yin (winter) turns to Yang (Summer) which turns to Yin again. (Yin to Yin, "simplicity to simplicity", passivity to activity to passivity). Good and evil, antagonistic yet complementary fundamental energies must find expression in all the visible and invisible aspects of nature.
The concept of natural rhythms and change is central to Yin/Yang theory: See Master Sun, sail in at dawn, dip away at dusk. See Mistress Moon, slip in at dusk, pale away at dawn. But in the night the sun is there and in the day the moon, there and not there at the same time, like Santa Claus and God (OTMH)
Conception, birth, puberty, parenthood, menopause, death (reincarnation?) are all part of the seasons of life. There is a time for activity and a time for rest. All action/interaction involves input or output of energy, creation and destruction, and transformation, i.e. involves dynamic, inevitable change. Yet, the whole system stays in balance, with nothing added and nothing taken away. All of nature consists of change and no change.
Yin/Yang theory predated Einstein's relativity theory (Section 25) by over 5000 years:... The Newgrange sign is clear and penetrates the soul.... The whorls and spirals,... deeply etched in granite cry aloud: "The reality of life and death is change! The reality of change is death and life! Listen and act if you dare!". The eagle understood. He saw his death and rebirth, found great inner peace.
Night and day, winter and summer, ice and fire, death and birth are common realities. In Zen they are neither evil nor good. They just are. Good and evil are only words. It is the personal choice and direction of action or inaction which matters to the Zen Master.
Zen Buddhism is rooted in concepts of Tao (the Way), the paradox, the way of change and no change, the way of Yin to Yin and Yang to Yang. It is the way of reason and unreason (intuition), compassion and dispassion, involvement and detachment.
An exercise of Zen meditation is to wrestle with a riddle to which there can be no reasonable answer- the paradoxical KOAN. A typical piece of Zen verse depicts a crag (Yang), valley (Yin), each merging into the other (change): Crag and valley fuse, explode, disintegrate, reform to emptiness and stone again. The canvas satisfies the painter's eye and palette, brushes, paint, sleep the easel sleep of waiting.
K was a great, if unwitting, poet of the oriental Zen/Yin-Yang tradition:
... Truth's insanity/ is a spell that men must hold to; when they wake/ not even dust is left for all their striving (CP182). On balance, K's writing put more emphasis on the Yin (dark, cold) but the Yang (bright, warm) was well represented in his work:... the boortree that has a curse but also a blessing (CP155). "Suddenly I remember something that makes me sad and, curiously enough, I am happy then" (SK122). "... people are hated because they are loved" (SK320).
But now I will hate till my hate/ comes out the other side of the world as love,/ love in Australia (CP218)
K's statements that "to be willing to be nothing is one of the best ways of being something" (SK222), that "his purpose was to have no purpose", that "tragedy is underdeveloped comedy" in the most profound sense (SK106; Kennelly) and that "the right way is wrong" (CP347) typify Zen KOANS. His change from passive observation/meditation to frenetic involvement/action to serene detachment (Kennelly, O'Loughlin) are typical Zen riddles, lived out in K's own experience.
The hoary joke " Who called the fiddler a fucker?" and the reply " Who called the fucker a fiddler?" is a typical Zen joke.
The comic poet and the Zen Master have a lot in common. Evil does not faze the Zen Master. He/she accepts evil with the same serene detachment as good. Both are equally valid realities:... praise, praise praise/ the way it happened and the way it is (CP322). Evil does not subdue or even arrest the comic poet because his/hers is the superb sanity of knowing what really matters (Kennelly).
In typical Zen riddles, K confounds thinkers and poets who take themselves too seriously in seeking to explore the unexplorable:... There are no answers/ to any real question (CP237, 238)... no answer, no message from experience won,/ advice forever explores the banal/ so let us walk along the banks of the canal... (CP279). He confounds those who try to explain the unexplainable: The only true teaching/ subsists in watching/ things moving or just colour/ without comment from the scholar (CP287). Those lines may anger atheistic scientists who think that the universe may be explained by equations but they strike a deep chord in scientists who have a religious or mystical outlook.
I have no message, no one has/ except that dullness will always pass.../... I'll give you nothing, yet give you all (CP344). Elsewhere, K says:... The only thing that matters is people- thinking, dreaming, hoping, loving. Life is the great Good (PK138).
Contact points between Christianity and the Great Religions, including Zen Buddhism, have been discussed by Johnston (1974), especially as regards fundamental philosophy and methods of meditation.
(Knowledge said... ): This is the only way/ of truth./ And the fool in me/ buried God's lantern in dark clay/ that an angel might not see (CP41)
Science versus religion: K had difficulty in resolving the conflict between intelligence/rationality and blind or reluctant obedience to religious dogma and practice. The self-reliance and pride of atheistic humanism is exemplified in the "scientific" search for truth.
Many scientists and thinkers believe that natural phenomena can be reduced ultimately to physical/chemical reactions governed by a complex set of equations. Atheistic scientists would not be:... afraid when the sun opened a flower,/... never astonished/ at a stick carried down a stream/ or at the undying difference in the corner of a field (CP180). By reducing nature to equations, they remove all the wonder and mystery: Analysis may quantify the elements in the beetle's iridescent wing but can it reconstruct the beetle's ash to fly again? Can Science weigh the human soul or take the pulse of God?
Most scientists think that all that is real can be made manifest in some measurable way, even if it is not easily seen, measured, labelled and understood. No one has seen a quark but the reality of quarks is inferred from effects which can be explained by their existence. No scientist has yet seen God through his/her telescope. Ergo, God does not exist- God is not given the status of the quark: Way out among the distant stars, or hidden in a quark,/ or in the pure song of the lark, or in the deeds of dark,/ or in the thunder and the rain, or in the desert dry,/ or in the fission of the bomb, or in the human cry,/ or in the slowly rotting leaf that births a giant tree,/ or in the plastic micro-chip, or in the depths of me,/ mc squared equals E! I kneel and adore THE E:/ at one with the Universe! (R/AT ONE)
Einstein's Law of Relativity (Energy = mass times the square of the speed of light) states that energy is neither created nor destroyed- it merely changes form. Mass and energy are interchangeable. Yet, the whole system stays in balance, with nothing added and nothing taken away. All of nature consists of change and no change. Ancient Yin/Yang and Zen theory predated these concepts by over 5000 years.
K saw science as a game for creatures of limited consciousness. FOR EMINENT PHYSICISTS is one of his best religious poems, in which he implies that faith in God wins him rather than reliance on science. The poem is so good that it said it all in less words that this commentary: God must be glad to see them play/ like kittens in the sun/ delighted with the wisps of hay/ blown from His haggard on a breezy day.../ Time's kittens, have your fun (CP147)
K had been basically Catholic since childhood. In his mid 30's he formally rejected atheistic humanism: To God's mill of slowness/ you cannot bring grist/ one grain more than Adam/ has put on man's list./ I will make you remember me/ O humanist/ hankering after/ the dreams which consist/ of immortal sundowns/ in a poetic West/and forever longing/ creative incest (CP57,58). For him, Hell was that great emptiness, the place of no purpose, where damned souls spent their time dancing or looking at race-horses or gossiping in tea-shops- planning, planning to no purpose (SK144)
I agree with K on these points. Does frenetic analysis of human behaviour and emotion give us a sense of purpose and meaning any more valid than simple human pleasure in the insignificant things in life?:... There are useless things in life - the eternity ring, dusty in a hock-shop window, the locket photo of an unknown soldier and his unsmiling bride,... But they warm the mind in the search for why and for identity.
The atheist who faces up to life in the belief that: "when you're alive, you're alive; when you're dead, you're dead" (Wang Zong-Yuan(2)) often lives a courageous, pragmatic existence. Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the people- we invent religions to give meaning to what is a miserable, seemingly meaningless life for countless millions and hope in a world where we know hope to be a sick joke: Are we but children who need a bedtime story to mask the hell and heaven of nature's savagery and glory? We invent heaven as a consolation for living a hell on earth: A man throws himself prostrate/ and God lies down beside him like a woman/ consoling the hysteria of her lover/ that sighs his passion emptily: "The next time love, you shall faint in me" (CP116).
(2) Wang, Zong-Yuan is Chinese and a good friend. He worked at our Institute for almost two years before returning to his post as Associate Professor at the veterinary faculty in Jiangsu. Wang does not admit to believing in a soul that survives death. His most memorable quote, delivered with a deadpan face, in all seriousness, was: "When you alive, you alive. When you dead, you dead!" This was in reply to a friend who asked Wang if he believed in ghosts. During his long stay in Dublin, Wang's wife and son were at home in China. To a jocose Monday morning query if he had bedded any Irish women at the weekend, he replied thoughtfully: "Irish... too much importance on sex. My country... marriage more important!"
There is no next time for atheists, no heaven or hell, no stewardship for which an account must be rendered, no justice except what they can create by human thought and hands on this earth. The family/group/state becomes the raison d'etre. The moral atheist transcends selfishness by working for the benefit of the group. But the danger of atheism is that ethics and pragmatism can deteriorate into survival of the fittest at its bestial worst:... Status, power, pleasure, money, hope of eternal salvation - just carrots to tempt the lazy ass to move, all swoppable for a wooden alms-bowl and equally valid. And you? And you? And you, Beijing, and you?
Tomorrow, you say, all the knowledge of the world- on science, music, art, the cures for every ill, the wisdom of the sages, the database of human endeavour, will be encoded and attainable on submolecular computers. But will that knowledge help you to love, to laugh, to share, or will it be a commodity, like gold or oil?
That was written years before the Gulf War. The American pacifist senator, who pleaded in vain to prevent the war, was right: If Kuwait's main crop was artichokes,/ Saddam would have stayed at home/ and Schwartzkopf's name would be unknown/ to us and quarry-pits of corpses still alive.
* 26. CHRISTIAN FAITH
I saw Christ today/ at a street corner stand,/ in the rags of a beggar he stood/ he held ballads in his hand (CP27)
The way I see it, all that went before is gone, work, rest, good, sin, but sparrows still find grain. Today is incarnation, birth, death and resurrection, wheel, spoke and axle, hub and rim of universe.
K referred frequently to the Christian concepts of Mary, the Christ, the Cross, the Spirit, God, the Devil, sin, confession, sorrow, remorse, the transience of life and the fierce need for Truth.
Joy that is timeless! O heart/ that knows God. (CP2)
Child there is light somewhere/ under a star,/ sometime it will be for you/ a window that looks inward to God. (CP7)
We drift and we care not whither,/ why should we care?/ For You are at the end of all journeys/ by vision or prayer (CP34)
Blessed are the followers/ of all wheel tracks,/ blessed the spoke-tortured / Christ (CP67)
There are no priests on the altars/ of Metaphysic./ You have heard that truth before./ Well, what matter!/ Is the body not the temple of the Holy Ghost/ and flesh eyes have glimpsed Truth (CP69)
God the Father is the Father/ of each one of us (CP115)
Conditioning: The first caring creature to be seen after the hatchling leaves the egg can imprint "mother" on the young one's memory. The "mother river" imprints its smell on the salmon fry, enabling the adult salmon to find the mother river after a journey of thousands of miles.
Faith, religious or political, is largely a reflex, conditioned mainly by parents, teachers and handlers. But conditioning can be imperfect and reflexes can be de-conditioned: Out near Belmullet, another shaking Mayo bog,... echoed ragged hymns... No turf was cut as the people waited.... A shout went up, a roar as people pointed to the sun. Mother of God! it cart-wheeled, pulsing madly and out of the sun, the Virgin came. The boy's left eye saw nothing but Thermos flasks, cracked cups, earnest faces searching the sky and the sun shining.... He had no faith.
Thinkers often doubt the existence of the soul and the afterlife (Section 25). Unlike Lazarus, none of us have first-hand experience of the "country beyond the range of birds" (CP106) but many of us hope and pray that it exists. Even saints, like Thomas and Peter, who knew the Master in the flesh, had crises of faith. Most of us, who did not meet Christ as they did, have had the same doubts: O give me faith/ that I may be/ alive when April's/ ecstasy/ dances in every/ white-thorn tree (CP8)
For faith to have value, believers must wrestle constantly with unbelief.
K had doubts when he visited Lough Derg:... this piety that hangs like a fool's unthought/ this certainty in men,/ this three days' too goodness,/ too neighbourly cries/ temptation to murder/ mediocrities (CP118)
He accepted the idea of a personal God, at least up to age 38, when he wrote LOUGH DERG: Only God thinks of the dying sparrow/ in the middle of a war (CP115). But the concept posed problems for him in later life, as it does to many who want to say (and believe) "Amen!". If the personal Ear of God listens to the millions who pray for specific, selfish, intentions, poor God must be weary, if not downright confused. K touches on this but the prayers are directed to Mary instead: A secret lover/ is saying Three Hail Marys.../ that... will bring/ Cathleen O'Hara... home to him./... Cathleen herself is saying/ (three more)... to bring/ somebody else home to her.../ What is the Virgin Mary now to do? (CP176)
In LOUGH DERG, K sums up the many and varied types of selfish prayer, so often offered up by the faithful (send me a wife; may Mary pass her finals; God take away this sin; God make John get his sight back etc). He was aware of the irony of leaders of Church and State on opposite sides of the battle lines praying to the same God, the God of Peace, for victory in battle. It is unclear how K resolved this dilemma for himself. I am unable to resolve it for myself. With Saddam and the Allies calling for Divine Aid in their unholy war, God/Allah must have had some headache.
In WHY SORROW Fr. Mat acknowledged the futility of selfish prayer: I took with me the answers to every prayer/ that young men and girls pray: love, happiness, riches/ Christ cannot give. He is the bitter-tasted, wrong-turned./ You will get/ from Christ if you pray for love a laugh too late/ and riches Christly-come will be desire/ without escape from it (CP181)
K's idea of prayer was one of worship, praise and wonder at the beauty of God's creation (nature), a sense of oneness with the Creator and all things created, rather than a plea to supernatural beings for special treatment of the self. In Fr. Mat's words:... You plough, you sow, you reap, you buy and sell/ and sing and eat and sleep. All is well/ done/ in the name of the Holy One (CP181). K said that a lot of orthodox praying has no more spiritual value than a Dipper's bath (SK52). For him, the search for truth and its expression in poetry was real prayer, the praise and worship of the Spirit in mortal flesh, the childlike affirmation of the utter dependence of humanity on the benevolence of the Energy behind nature. "The greatest work of God on this earth is... the poet's imagination" (SK223)
The Circle is the Father/ Diameter His Son/ Spirit the mathematical centre/ thus truth is known/ in all turning wheels/ in all tumbling clowns/ as in the firmament deep/ where the Prophet drowns (CP67)
In his youth, K was a devout Catholic but at 30 (December 1934), he wrote to Celia: "For some years I haven't been a Catholic but I am one now... my Christmas gift to you. Without faith it is impossible to be a poet and the faith of a Catholic is a lovely living flame" (LF32). There can be no doubt that central Catholic beliefs (of the time and place) were central in K's philosophy. But K was a thinker and thinkers have doubts and must consider alternative views.
* 27. REPENTANCE
We have sinned.../ Let us lie down again/ deep in anonymous humility and God/ may find us worthy material for His hand (CP256)
Love of self, the family, the tribe, the race is inherently good but may become evil if that love excludes others, other families, tribes and races.
Sin, guilt and repentance mean different things to different people. The human reality is that we are human and mortal. To be human is to be weak in some aspects of our lives. Honest people admit weakness in some or many aspects of their behaviour. They admit to having made serious mistakes, or having failed to hit the desired ethical target, at some, if not many, stages of their lives. Their reaction to having missed the target (recognition, attempt to rectify the miss, guilt) is very varied and is largely conditioned by their culture and life experiences.
In some belief systems, culpable fault is called sin. The sinner is expected to recognise the sin, to apologise for his/her weak human nature by an internal (personal) contrition to God and to resolve to do better. Where possible, recompense is expected. The RCC makes an additional demand: the sinner is required to make an external (social) expression of guilt (confession) and sorrow for the sin (Act of Contrition as a sign of repentance).
As it was in K's time, the catechism of my childhood, was one of the main conditioning forces in my religious formation. It listed three conditions needed to classify a sin as grievously evil (mortal): grave matter, full knowledge and full consent. These conditions are not as clear-cut as my religious teachers might have wished:
Jones! A millionaire evades tax by every loophole. Is that a mortal sin?
No sir! Not grave matter...
Quinn! Did the Allies commit mortal sin when they massacred Kuwaitis?
No sir! They thought they were Iraqis...
Fox! Did Henry VIII commit mortal sin when he took eight wives?
No sir! He had their full consent at the time...
Guilt has two aspects: positive and negative. The positive (recognition of error and the attempt to correct it) can be a useful learning experience which can strengthen character and personality. The negative (loss of self respect, self hate) can be useless, if not soul destroying.
In contrast to attitudes in the first half of the century, some of us work hard to reject the negative self-destructive aspects guilt: I spit you out and shake you from my mind, O Guilt, tormenter of sad souls, usurper of sleep, of gaiety and growth.... Awar has trained, perfected her talents over centuries, with yogis, holy men in saffron, Zen archers, psychiatrists in jeans. She does not weasel, badger, vixen or oppress but reminds me gently, when I miss the target or forget the task, to aim higher, to the left, or tie a knot around my finger next time out.
The Zen archer, who has practised for years, misses the target and says:
"I will practice harder". He does, including arduous mental and physical exercises. He returns to the target, aims carefully, visualises the arrow sizzling straight into the centre. He misses, shrugs and says: "I will practice harder".
The pragmatist misses and says: "I will hit the target if I can find a straighter arrow". He does, fires and misses. He upgrades his bow, uses a wind gauge, moves closer to the target, fires again and misses.
The optimist says: "I will hit the target next time". He misses and tries again.
The pessimist says: "I will never hit the target" and runs off to tell a priest.
The priest misses the same target and runs off to tell a shrink.
The shrink nods sympathetically, says: "What target?" and collects thirty pieces of silver.
Sinners make good copy, as the owners of tabloid newspapers appreciate. But poets also profit from the sins of others, if not from their own. Saint Peter's denial of Christ, the Judas' kiss, Augustine's "Lord, make me pure- but not just yet" etc. have devoured reams of paper through the ages: In the courtyard, a petrified coward stares at the saturated linen cloak, at the haggard Face and Brow with thorn-blood soaked. Is He not your friend? Christ, no!
K acknowledged that true repentance is not enforced from without, but must come from within, in a spirit of true humility:... Within/ you will find sin/ but also you/ may find what is true/ and good... (CP207)
Grey Liffey run less drearily with my guilt (CP271)
Speaking of the LOUGH DERG penitents, K said:... (They)... were not led there/ by priests of Maynooth or stories of Italy or Spain/ for this is the penance of the poor/ who knows what beauty hides in misery/ as beggars, fools and eastern fakirs know (CP111)
This sentiment closely resembles one of Christ's parables, which teaches that: "unless ye become as little children, ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven". The ability to wonder in childlike awe at creation is the source and means of salvation. K had that ability in abundance: We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages/ of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-/ and Christ comes with a January flower (CP125)
God keep you child/ when you go down/ the faithless streets/ of pleasure's town./... And when you sell/ your beauty sweet/ Beware! Love's coin/ is counterfeit (CP48)
(Mary..I)/ know the blessed pain/ when crusts of death are broken/ and tears are blossomed rain/... and why should I lament the wind/ of chance that brought her here/ to be an April offering/ for sins my heart held dear (CP7)
An ex-monk from Dublin.../... had fallen once and secretly, no shame/ tainted the young girl's name,/ a convent schoolgirl knowing/ nothing of earth sowing./ He took her three times/ as in his daydreams... (CP109)
But the monk repented on Lough Derg, confessed his sin to his co-pilgrims and left the place in peace: He knew/ now that madness is not knowing/ that laws for the mown hay/ will not serve that which is growing./ Through Lough Derg's fast and meditation/ he learned the wisdom of his generation (CP116)
and later:... The monk appears once more... his pride gone,/ green hope growing where the feet of Pan/ had hoofed the grass (CP123)
K had the hope that struggles through in the winter of old age. There can be little doubt that he repented of his own waywardness toward the end of his life: For I know a man who... entered the very city of Hate/ and God visited him every day out of pity/ till in the end he became a most noble saint (CP211)
... at the end of a tortuous road/ (I)... have learned with surprise that God/ unworshipped withers to the Futile One (CP245)
In 1963, four years before his death, he wrote: Nothing more to be done in that particular/ direction, nothing now but prayer... (CP323)
Only they who fly home to God have flown at all (CP130)
O divine Baby in the cradle/ all that is joy in me/ is that I have saved from the ruin/ of my soul your Infancy (CP71)
Did those lines flash through K's mind at his last conscious moment, or did he die composing some new and violently beautiful poem to the Creator or a poem simply praising human ability to defy poverty, pain, darkness and silence? We may never know but I hope, for him and me, that it was so.
* 28. CONCLUSIONS
I met God the Father in the street (CP208).... I have nothing to announce/ on any subject... (CP307).... Doubts/ flap in the cave of my skull (R/PRIEST).
K was to Anglo-Irish literature as the late Tommy O'Brien(3) was to Irish appreciation of classical music. K called himself a "fool/bard/rhymer" and O'Brien came across to some as "a bit of a clown". Both were of the people and made their themes accessible to the people, rural and urban. Both were direct, no nonsense types. They praised the good and chastised the shoddy.
(3) Tommy O'Brien (19??-1988??) was the genial host of a weekly show (19??-19??) on Radio Eireann. He presented classical music and song in a unique way and his show had a very high audience rating. His voice was highly individual and recognisable instantly all over Ireland.
Kavanagh was Kavanagh, a mystic, an unschooled rustic with hayseed in his hair (CP222, 223). He was a self-made man, a man of fire and water, a man who loved and hated, a Irish man of great genius and some stupidity:... being savage, wild and proud.../ being every hour fated/ to say the things that make me hated... (CP163)
Like Tommy O'Brien, K was an outsider who walked apart:... on the hills/ loving life's miracles/ of stone and grass/ and the ecstatic caress/ of wind in the face.../... he was mostly alone/ and lonely and sad/ on hill and road... (CP208)
He was direct and used earthy, descriptive, every-day language: I heard the Duffy's shouting "Damn your soul"/ and old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen/ step the plot defying blue cast-steel (CP238)
... Is that Cassidy's ass/ out in my clover? Curse o' God-/ Where's that dog? (CP81)
Being a man of the people, his poetry was that of the people. He abhorred pretentiousness, although he blew his own trumpet occasionally. Who does not? Although he alluded to Christian values and Irish myth, there were few allusions to classical Greco-Roman themes and he was not given to the "clever", cerebral poetry, so popular with our lesser poets. He wrote from the gut and his poetry belts the reader between the eyes or in the solar plexus.
K had a tough, lonely life: Spread out the vain collection-/ not a penny of affection (CP226). He knew brutality, shabbiness, poverty, isolation, human frailty and chronic illness at first-hand. In the end he overcame all these handicaps and, like the seer Don Juan (in Carlos Casteneda's novels), he saw things for what they are- nothing of consequence- and he shrugged or just laughed at them and took another slug of whiskey: O come all ye gallant poets- to know it doesn't matter/ is imagination's message... (CP225).
When he saw somebody "important" or "major", he was "always in danger of bursting out laughing"... we get to our destiny in the end (SK348). In the POET'S READY RECKONER he said: I said to Maggie a most purist maid/ can you explain the modern parade/ of tycoons sultaning it with shabby whores/ notorious nobodies in a world of bores./ She said it was the twentieth-century play/ as we lay together on an ex-railway/ she said all public heros were the same/ from pimp descended and the poxy dame/ glittering in dinner dress in brass tiaras/ no poet could be interested in those arses... (CP327)
During his painful growth from "simplicity to simplicity" (Kennelly), he had a few blind spots, especially as regards the efforts or goodwill of other people:... and I met a lot of idiotic professors/ who were teaching creativity/ in writing and other arts/ to girls mainly... (CP345). He was surely laughing at himself when he wrote that.
Some people like poets to be romantic, tentative, uncertain or ambiguous. Pseudo-intellectuals laud obscure, esoteric poetry. That was not K's style (Kennelly). Christ said: "The lukewarm I will vomit out of My mouth". K was not lukewarm. He was a man who took a firm stand on most issues: The most immoral place of all/ is the middle of the road.../... 'Tis better to believe in something wrong/ than to be blase, cynical as here,/ accepting every pious racketeer (CP195)
The first of the Seven Deadly Sins is Pride. K was a proud, hard man for most of his life. He repented of his pride (CP256). Hospitalisation for removal of a cancerous lung in 1955 brought his dependence on others (and alcohol) into focus. He replaced pride with humility and simplicity towards the end of his life:... and I would not be afraid of taking pot-luck/ without pride.../ O Pride, what a bore you have been,/ a messer-up of the simplicities of love (CP343)
The Great Commandments are: Love God and love thy neighbour. The Futile One is also called the Father of Lies. K's saving graces were his compassion, love and honesty and a fierce determination not to compromise on truth, as he saw it: No charlatan am I/ with poet's mouth and idiot's eye:/ I may not be divine/ but what is mine is mine/ in naked honesty (CP25)
... all lies are due to cowardice... To have the courage of being yourself is to be truthful (SK220-221)
He showed a "vein of humanity that can bleed/ through the thickest hide" (CP108).
And he wished them happiness and whatever they most desired from life (CP96)
K had held fast to reason as the guiding principles for most of his life. But human actions and their expression are a mixture of reason and unreason (instinct). Alcoholism is as "unreasonable" as faith. In the end of his life, he wrote: The day I walked out on reason- that old plodder/ (but you didn't)/ was the best day of my life... (CP351)
He was aware of the human condition- frailty, loneliness, frustration, the isolation of the artist and the need for love, the false friendship of the bottle, the transience of life and the battle to survive. He had little time for craw-thumpers and hypocrites.
His awareness of the beauty of creation, idealism, truth, the evil of sin etc suggests that he was a deeply religious man. On country life he wrote:
There is the source from which all cultures rise/ and all religions,/ There is the pool in which the poet dips/ and the musician (CP100)
And you'll come back.../ and find this pig-sty for your pig's broad back/ and in it all religion, literature, art-/ I know, I know the secret of your heart (CP247)
Robert Greacon said that in 1943, K "emphasised his belief in God and Mother Church. Nor would he listen to a dirty story much less tell one" (SK124). Peter said: "Patrick was an intense Catholic but reserved on the matter. He revealed his true position to no one, not even to me. He never blasphemed, never said "By God" or "By Christ" because for him poetry and God were the same thing and it would be unthinkable for him to insult the poetic fire, his most sacred possession and the reason for his being" (SK10). However, these are the words of the Sacred Keeper. In attempting to fathom K from his work and from articles written about him, my conclusions would not be quite so certain. Many deeply religious people misuse the name their God occasionally.
K showed paradoxical ambivalence to paganism and Christianity. He referred often to Christian faith, belief/hope in the hereafter and repentance but he also worshipped nature in her fickleness, beauty and harshness. He oscillated from Christianity to paganism.
The leering god might be a plaster cast/ so fixed his putty smile./ His trade of creation has been suspended/ and he waits for us at the end of the level mile (CP55).
I know that I have spoken/ a different wisdom as/ the tree was shaken/ above the parlour grass./ That is not as it should be./ I should have listened longer/ not feared the tremulous Tree/ and the Stranger/ with words that were not caught/ upon the difficult bough./ He was wise. And I fool taught/ by Earth to know (CP65)
I can't delay now Jem/ lest I be late for Bethlehem (CP72)
K was "a half-pilgrim who hated prayer,/ all truth for which St. Patrick's Purgatory vouches" (CP108). His doubts about Christianity were especially well portrayed in his most loveable character, Fr. Mat in WHY SORROW: The trees that were before the Cross was sawn/ were worthy to be worshipped (CP172)... Fr. Mat looked down at a coltsfoot blossom/ and loved it more than ever he loved the Sacrament-/ for here was the symbol of an old joy./ Success- the earth cheers Christ human not divine (CP173)
The midges caught in the searchlight/ were beautiful unChristian things (CP179)
(Fr. Mat)... worshipped more the flowers in the garden/ than God... (CP180)
Three-quarters way through that long poem, it seemed as if Fr. Mat, whose pagan leanings were very strong, was reconverted to Christ: So one day he knelt and struck his breast/ and denied the sun and the earth... (CP182)
Then followed one of the most enigmatic lines in K's poems:... And Jesus Christ/ turned him round in his path (CP182)
The story of Fr. Mat was based on Fr. Bernard Maguire, an intellectual who had spent 10 years in Salamanca and was then sent into the wilderness to be the "curate, then parish priest of Inniskeen... instead of committing suicide, he turned to drink... No one in the parish knew of his weakness... until after the priest died" (SK88).
There are ironic parallels between Fr. Mat's life and that of K himself, not least of which was K's lifelong vocation to be the priest of the God of Poetry: "There is an instinct in mankind which recognises the priestly nature of the poet's function" (SK214). Although Fr. Mat confessed his paganism to the young curate and went on a penitential pilgrimage to Lough Derg, he was a most reluctant Christian indeed. He mourned deeply the passing of the old ways and was not sure of the validity of the New Way, to which he had committed himself against the judgement of his heart and his instinct. In the last two lines of the poem, Fr. Mat is portrayed as living a holy lie- trying to believe in the Christian God and failing: "O God is good", the listener said./ The cynic whispered to Fr. Mat... (CP187).
In the early 1950s, K wrote: In every poet there is something of Christ writing the sins of the people in the dust (SK267). He accepted the reality of the immortal soul. He was:... convinced/... that belief is the basis of tragedy/ waiting for this other life/ which eventually is Eternal Life (CP249). When his lung function deteriorated (1955), he missed Mass occasionally, as he feared draughty Churches but he went to Confession (SK280-282). In 1957: "The poet's arrogance and authority are hated by vain fools who will not submit to the will of God" (SK324). He also defined a peasant as: "all that mass of mankind which lives below a certain level of consciousness... they scream when they see the light" (SK349).
In 1964, K reaffirmed that poetry was a pagan thing (SK246). Talking to himself, he said: you... take up religion bitterly/ which you laughed at in your youth,/ well not actually laughed/ but it wasn't your kind of truth (CP223)
Towards the end of his life K, like Fr Mat, reconverted to Christ, but reluctantly. By one brave gesture a man may be saved (SK221). He admitted failure in the end and threw himself in God's hands, even though doubts about the existence of life after death had recurred again (1965):... heaven if there is such/ a place which I doubt very much (CP344)
In the winter of life, most humans become helpless and dependant. The lucky ones die suddenly at their peak in accidents or plateau of heart attacks from excitement (football matches or friendly fornication, in fact or in dream). Otherwise philosophers see once strong minds become senile, warriors become incontinent. They see and accept this without any real understanding but make the analogy of the seasons. In the light of the inevitable decline and mouldering of our lives, the frenetic grasping after "success" (health, status, power, happiness, money, possessions etc) is ludicrous.
K, like most Irish people of his day, decided that a bit of spiritual insurance would not go astray. He was familiar with the expression: "there are no pockets in the shroud". This knowledge makes "failure" easier to accept and the dreamer has an honoured place in that philosophy. Like his stoical, patient hero, Patrick Maguire, it could be said of K himself that:... being a failure in the end-/ God, perfection on me spend (CP163)
... there were things in that winter arrival that made me/ feel younger, less of a failure... (CP293)
Periodic poetic impotence and consequential scornful rejection by the once-nymphomanic Muse, was probably the most painful aspect of K's last years. ...I curse and crave the Sidhe Muse/ who lets me glimpse her breast,/ opens her cloak for me/ and then evades me,/ laughing at my impotence (R/LOST DWARF). This tragedy often strikes poets younger than he:... Impotent, I know the pain of wild desire to pen a masterpiece of beauty and wonder, a poem to tower high above the desert of destruction, a word-block pyramid of hope to mock the hopelessness of hedonistic man, a landmark for the lost who cross the wastes of time, blinded by sandstorms of self and empty pleasure.
There is a great resistance to change, as advertising agents know so well. We all accept the reality of death. Deep down, we know that all created things, including human conditions, must change. But, as modern physics and oriental philosophy theorise, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In some ways, like most of us, K was conventional and conservative. He did not like change. He wished in vain for traditional ways to be maintained. For example, he regretted the introduction of jazz to the countryside, a fact that Peter would prefer to be forgotten (PK402). Chances are that, were K voting today, he would support those who oppose any changes, from EC membership to free availability of condoms, on the basis of the catch-cry that they would destroy the precious fabric of Irish life.
A weakness of K's work is that, in spite of the overall change in his work ("simplicity to simplicity" again), in his individual pieces, he did not develop in greater depth the fundamental concept of change. True, he did follow Maguire and Fr. Mat through their lives, but he did not develop the idea of change as a force for the better. K's poetry had a type of changelessness about it. He could have pursued the changes in Irish rural and urban life in the 50's and 60's much more. Not all change, (even the "tinsel prayer of engines new supplied") is for the bad.
However, K would have agreed that mythology, cant and dogma (including repressive religious and social dogma) are no substitute for personal growth and experience. Like the mayfly, hatched in a shimmering marsh, he: "... skimmed the sentiment of every pool of experience/ and talked heresy lightly from distances" (CP108). Faith, hope and charity are mere words like good and evil until they are realised in the flesh. K was:... capable of an intense/ love that is experience (CP243).
See the dead, my friend - how still they are. Do they care for cobwebs in the livingroom, endowment mortgages, lead- or silk-lined coffins, conceleb-rated requiems? Life is now, my friend, and the now not guaranteed.
Life is for loving and living, for growth and decay, for experimentation and failure. It is not for futile talk or unfelt prayer: He saw the sunlight and begrudged no man/ his share of what the miserly soil and soul/ gives in season to the ploughman (CP96)
In contrast to some of his earlier statements, in which he placed a primary responsibility on poets and intellectuals to "educate the masses" and raise their mental and moral targets to higher planes, K says later: The poet's task is not to solve the riddle/ of Man and God but buckleap on a door/ and grab his screeching female by the middle/ to the music of a melodeon (preferably), roar/... up lads and thrash the beetles (CP248)
Roulette life is for fools. Being alive-/ surprisingly quite rare- is a solid factor (CP306)
He, like many conscientious thinkers and writers, was hard on himself in many ways. In old age he grew to forgive his failings. There is a saying that those who can not love themselves can not love anyone else. Once K came to love and forgive himself (CP337), he was able to love and forgive his imagined enemies also.
We are all conditioned in our beliefs, morality and behaviour by family, school and immediate society. Most parents try to pass on their sense of values to their children. Parents would resent the charge that they try to condition the children to the same taboos and fears which make a mess of their own emotional, mental, spiritual and sexual lives but, in many cases, this is what the system (home + school + church + society) does: She held the strings of her children's Punch and Judy,/ and when a mouth opened/ it was her truth that the dolls would have spoken/ if they hadn't been made of wood and tin (CP99)
... I praise the rain/ for washing out the bank holiday with its moral risks/ it is not a nice attitude but it is conditioned.../... by a childhood perverted by Christian moralists (CP332)
The I-RCC exerted enormous power through its moral conditioning of sexual activity. By granting power in the home to mothers, it had the allegiance of mothers and daughters, thus maintaining control of women and ensuring a supply of priests and nuns (MM5-8). Compliant mothers had great moral power in the early formation of their sons. If their women won't play, decent men can't lay:... the moral-brake sickness in me from some lie/ believed by my mother before I was born (CP340)
Feminist women and the men who support their aims have rejected attempts by church and society to control their private lives. They believe that it is their right to choose how to use their minds, bodies and their sexuality. The I-RCC has less control over men than over women. As it continues to lose control of women, it loses its last vestiges of control of men. It still struggles to maintain control by insisting on the necessity of an "informed conscience", i.e. the adult conscience is wrongly informed if it rejects the teaching of the Pope and bishops.
Are we right to accept this conditioning? Should we reject some or all of it? If so, what do we reject and what do we adopt in its place? How much reliance should we place on our instincts, our reason and our ancient traditions?
It takes half a lifetime to learn/ to be abandoned, to yearn/ for no respectable fame (CP302)
Insects are tiny, insignificant-looking creatures and, at the same time, the most resilient form of life on our planet. When a person says of harmless or insignificant people "they could not harm a fly", is the sayer a seer? According to Kennelly, and in Zen thought, it is the insignificant things that are the most significant. The child (insignificant?) is father to the man (significant?). It is smallness that gives power. Smallness and obscurity and insignificance (PK259). Nuclear power from atomic fission or fusion bears out K's claim. His riddle:... I'll give you nothing, yet give you all (CP344) is classical Zen. K, with a deep understanding of the parochial and the mystical, was aware of the power of the trivial. Do we live by thee, O fable of the shy grass-leaf and boastful acorn tree, or do we treasure truth as chief? What is truth? The pleading of a bishop's mouth?
In spite of all his dourness and human frailty- and we are all frail- he was a great mystic, a black comedian and "one of the most sensitive men I have known" (Kennelly). In spite of that, much of his poetry comes across as insensitive. He would not, for instance, be too popular with gay readers for implying that homosexuality was abnormal or with the feminist movement for his harsh treatment of women in some of his work.
K was a paradox, an Irish version of a Zen riddle:... some said a great artist, others, ambiguously, a fiddle... (CP300). Hate him or love him, "the old peasant can neither be damned nor glorified" (CP104) and he can not be ignored. In his poetry, he is a warrior, a Christ-like champion of the poor and oppressed. He was:... the representative of those/ clay-faced sucklers of spade handles,/ bleak peasants for whom Apollo blows... (CP30). His verses scream out human loneliness, pain, injustice, poverty and ignorance. They also sing the desire of the human soul to transcend the weakness and imperfection of this life. They acknowledge the joy and beauty of life (the only life that we really know) and the fearful wondering if there can be anything waiting on the other side of the Veil.
To paraphrase another bard: he was a man/ take him for all in all. And to borrow from another chauvinist, John Wayne: he sure was one hell of a man, a hell-raiser.
Kavanagh throws out a mighty challenge and no challenge: "my purpose in life is to have no purpose" (Kennelly). O'Loughlin develops this further: ... his influence (on Irish poets) was to have no influence. Like a good parent or teacher, he shapes the children to think for themselves, to question (if not reject) all the cant and myths of the Celtic Twilight, to shape their own lives within the reality of the possible, to make the best of their circumstances and to fight on stubbornly and relentlessly for their principles. But, most of all, the top priorities of good parenting and education are finally about teaching the child to be sensitive, world-loving and self-loving, i.e. to be really human. As K said: Philosophy's graveyard- only dead men analyse/ the reason for existence./... The world began this morning, God-dreamt and full of birds.../ O come all ye youthful poets and try to be more human (CP225).
Teaching depends on the knowledge, instinct and communication skills of the teacher and on the ability and willingness of the student to learn. The great teacher may have many students or only one. But one is enough because that one may teach many. K believed that the great poets... never teach us anything... they... provide us with an orgy of sensation and nothing else or more (SK220).
K was wrong. He undervalued the priesthood of the great poets and the sermons on love, hate, hope and despair in his own life and work. In 1957 he said that malice is but another name for mediocrity. People need not be mediocrities if they accept themselves as God made them. God only makes geniuses (SK326). What a teaching if there are students to listen.
K's impact on modern Irish poetry has been and will be enormous, if only to encourage unpublished poets not to be put off by a confetti of rejection-slips. His raw, earthy, honesty will encourage young poets to examine their own rickety truths. New poets have a great body of material to criticise or refute in his work. For instance, is K's bleakness, defeatism and negativity valid for modern Ireland, North and South? Are we a defeated race (CP96, 137, 221)? Does it matter? Is there an afterlife or is our eternal salvation a myth? Was K a pagan at heart, trying hard to be Christian but ultimately not succeeding?:... Unwilling saint,/ a moot point.../ well call it what you like (CP351). These are of the difficult questions which arise from his writing. They should be a fertile mind-ground to be ploughed by new writers.
Some commentators, especially British, dispute K's international recognition as a great, if parochial, poet after years in the literary wilderness. O'Loughlin argues for the validity of his greatness but makes it clear that K's vision of Ireland and Irish life may not be appreciated by foreigners who have not experienced our realities and who have no real understanding of our history and culture. Whether or not he is recognised abroad, K's work must encourage newer Irish poets whose work or style meets with frowns (or fear) from the in-clique of the day. Margaret O'Brien summed K up:... here was a gentle man who was savagely himself, one who took care to avoid enshrining himself in terms of any contrived or popular image (PK329).
John Kilfeather's tribute is most apt: "My Patrick Kavanagh was a highly cultured mind with a lot of innocence in it. Not since Burns has a great figure emerged from the people who has left such a faithful record of what it is to be of the people and yet apart from them. His life was not the least of his works of art" (SK246).
Paddy Kavanagh, if you can hear me, I wish that I had known you in the flesh. You loved life, understood failure, dreamed of better ways and knew the sun and shade of the land and its people. But had I known you sooner, I might have written little, as you had dug my best ground before me.
Connaught people say: "You can take the man out of the bog, but you can't take the bog out of the man". And thank God for that. From one culchie of Sligo clay to another in Mucker laid, a belated "Beannacht De leat agus faoi bhrat Mhuire go raibh d'anam" [Gaelic blessing: The blessing of God on you, and under Mary's cloak may your soul be].
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