Friday, December 15, 2006

Patrick Kavanagh, "Epic"

I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided: who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting 'Damn your soul'
And old McCabe, stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
'Here is the march along these iron stones'.
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was most important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.


From Come Dance with Kitty Stobling and Other Poems (1960)

Once again, today's poem serves as a counterpoint to yesterday's. Here the catapulting, millenia-spanning title is half ironic, half self-justifying; another juxtaposition of Northern Ireland and the Trojan War, "Epic" also throws in World War II for good measure. Rather than deem the similarities implicit, however, the poem questions the significance of any of the events, as part of Kavanagh's examination of the local vs. the universal, his interest in the parish as a microcosm for the world. While the issue of subjectivity versus true import remains in the air, the place of art is asserted as authoritative - just like titling a mere fourteen-line sonnet "Epic".

(More about Patrick Kavanagh [1904-1967]:


Feargus said...

It is not Northern Ireland that is the microcosm here , but rather any feuding farmer neighbours , who could be in Yorkshire , India or Kentucky . Kavanagh 's own community was in Monaghan , not in the partitioned N.I.

Quotidian Poet said...

Good point, Feargus. Thanks!