Sunday Poetry: On Raglan Road, by Patrick Kavanagh

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.

– by Patrick Kavanagh

This is not my favorite poem by Patrick Kavanagh. For that distinction, I would lean toward his lengthy consideration of choked lust, “The Great Hunger” or his (ironically) much shorter “Epic“. And yet, it is probably Kavanagh’s best-known poem, because it was set to music after Kavanagh met Luke Kelly, a member of The Dubliners, at a pub named The Bailey. Since then, the song has been covered by Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor and dozens of others, and it appears in the soundtrack of Oscar-nominated “In Bruges“. Here’s the story and the song:

The relationship between poetry and music is a tricky one. I sometimes wonder whether the rise of recorded music has destroyed the need for spoken word poetry – clearly, the Youtube version above resonates within me more than the words above it, and Sinead O’Connor’s voice brings a bittersweet nuance that my internal voice lacks entirely.

Poetry originated as a mnemonic device for recalling and retelling stories around the campfire. In Ireland, men made their living walking from town to town and reciting the poetry of their ancestors, and the legends of Cuchulain and others. Poetry helped culture and tradition survive in a semi-literate world.

Those days are over. My iPod exceeds the memory of any wandering reciter of poetry, and repeats flawlessly the guitars, drums and bass that enhance the performance of words.

If Bob Dylan was the poet of his generation, what were Lawrence Ferlinghetti or Allen Ginsburg doing? Where is the poet who can sell out the Sprint Center the way that Bruce Springsteen did? Are we talking about two entirely separate things when we discuss poetry and music, or are we talking about the same art delivered in different packages. Is it a venn diagram or a circle within a circle? And if it’s a circle in a circle, are lyrics set to music a smaller (though immensely profitable and popular) circle within the greater circle of poetry, or is poetry, with its attempts at music through rhymes and rhythm, a narrower form of words set to music?

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