Wednesday, August 06, 2008

707. Patrick Kavanagh: An Annotated Exequy - L. E. Sissman

Well, Kavanagh, you've gone and done it, died
The way you said you would, propped up with pride
And penury in a dim nursing home
In Dublin, not in Monaghan. The morn-
Ing newspapers1 said what you said they would,2
Not mourning, so it's nice and tidy. Good.
But wait. I'm here to say a thing or two
About a lovely man I never knew
Who lived in lodgings next door to despair,
And caught the winter light in Gibson Square,3
and walked alone in crumbling Islington,
And saw the setting of the Irish sun
On the potato fields of Monaghan
Across the ocean wild and wide, a home
To be escaped from the returned to, where
Calves called for his deft hands, and up the stair
The mother lay in her bare, crucified
Chamber, as old and constant as the tide
In rising and receding to and from
The complicated presence of a son,
Or else his absence. Absent in a slum
Of Dublin or of London, he conveyed
His country to the city, which he made
New with his patient peasant heart and hand
And urbane horn-rimmed head. Of course he'd stand––
And be stood ––– too much drink in darkling bars
And wake up to the anthem of the cars
And lorries of the morning. But he got
On with the serious business of what
An artist is to do with his rucksack
Of gift, the deadweight that deforms his back
And drives him on to prodigies of thought
And anguishes of execution, bought
At all cost of respectability
And all expense of nice society,
Until, alone, he faces homely him,
The only other tenant of his room,
And finds the world well lost.4 Well Kavanagh,
Possession being nine points of the law,
I find you guilty of possession of
The mortal spirit of unstinted love
For all things animate and otherwise,
And of the fatal talent to devise
Live poems expressing it, transcending all
Obituaries which record your fall.5

1 The morning newspapers and the radio
Announced his death in a few horrid words:
–– a man of talent who lacked the little more
That makes the difference
Between success and failure
–– "Portrait of the Artist"

2 Reputation for Eccentricity
Said to Have Overshadowed
Talents as a Writer
–– Obituary in the Times

3 I'll show you a holier aisle ––
The length of Gibson Square
Caught in November's stare
That would set you to prayer
–– "News Item"

4 And I also found some crucial
Documents of sad evil that may yet
For all their ugliness and vacuous leers
Fuel the fires of comedy. The main thing is to continue,
To walk Parnassus right into the sunset
Detached in love where pygmies cannot pin you
To the ground like Gulliver. So good luck and cheers.
–– "Dear Folks"

5 He's finished and that's definitely.
–– "The Same Again"