The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh (1904–67) came from a small-farming background in Co. Monaghan and settled in Dublin, where he became part of the impecunious but garrulous mid-century literary scene that also featured the likes of Brian O’Nolan (aka Flann O’Brien, Myles na Gopaleen) and Brendan Behan. Kavanagh’s somewhat cantankerous personality propelled him into various feuds, especially with Behan (my mother, who knew them both, told me of watching Behan chase Kavanagh up O’Connell Street on one occasion).
This is Kavanagh’s poem ‘On Raglan Road’, which he also rendered as a song, to the old tune ‘The Dawning of the Day’. The clip shows the poet for the first couple of lines, then switches to the great Luke Kelly (who merits a blog in his own right). The song is popular in Ireland … I know all the words and have often sung it on social occasions.
The woman with whom Kavanagh is somewhat bitterly besotted in the poem, having spurned him, later married a government minister.
On Raglan Road
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay –
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May.
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay –
When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.