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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dark Snares of Unrequited Love on Raglan Road


On Raglan Road

Patrick Kavanagh, written in 1946

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.

Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh (21 October 1904 – 30 November 1967) was an Irish poet and novelist. He was regarded as one of the foremost poets of the 20th century.

Kavanagh was born in rural Innis Keen, the fourth of ten children to Bridgett Quinn. His father, James, was a shoemaker and farmer.

Patrick became apprenticed to his father as a shoemaker and worked on his farm. For the first 27 years of his life, he lived and worked as a farmer of a small holding. He was also goalkeeper for the Inniskeen Gaelic football team. He commented that though he grew up in a poor district "the real poverty was lack of enlightenment [and] I am afraid this fog of unknowing affected me dreadfully."

Irish Poet: Kavanagh

So for the first 27 years of his life, Kavanagh lived the life of rural Ireland, the life of "fairs and football matches, of mass-going and dance-going." - See more at: http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/patrick-kavanagh#sthash.VZFRhqAk.dpuf
Seamus Heaney

Famous poet Seamus Heaney said, "So for the first 27 years of his life, Kavanagh lived the life of rural Ireland, the life of fairs and football matches, of mass-going and dance-going."

In 1931, he walked the eighty kilometres to meet his brother Russell in Dublin, where Russell was a teacher. In Dublin, Russell gave Kavanagh books, among them works by Feodor Dostoyevsy, Victor Hugo, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Robert Browning, and he also became Kavanagh's literary advisor.

Kavanagh's first collection, Ploughman and Other Poems was published in 1936, notable for its realistic portrayal of Irish country life, free of romantic sentiment often seen at the time in rural poetry, a trait he abhorred. His work made a commitment to colloquial speech and the unvarnished lives of real people, a trajectory which made him unpopular with the literary establishment.

Kavanagh eked out a living as a journalist but his tendency to tell the unvarnished truth, together with a self-belief in his poetic gifts, made him enemies. Recalling this period in the 1963 recording from which his Archive poems are taken, Kavanagh wryly says "every potential employer said I was a genius and therefore unemployable." - See more at: http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/patrick-kavanagh#sthash.VZFRhqAk.dpuf

Kavanagh eked out a living as a journalist but his tendency to tell the unvarnished truth, together with a self-belief in his poetic gifts, made him enemies. Recalling this period in the 1963 recording from which his Archive poems are taken, Kavanagh wryly says "every potential employer said I was a genius and therefore unemployable."

However, in 1954 personal crisis was to set his poetry on a new course. Firstly, Kavanagh pursued and lost a notorious libel action against a Dublin newspaper that accuse him of being an alcoholic "sponger" and secondly he was diagnosed with cancer and had a lung removed.

(Patrick Kavanagh. Poetry Foundation Bibliography)

It was during his convalescence while sitting beside the Grand Canal in Dublin that he underwent what he described as a "re-birth." He began to enjoy nature and his pleasant surroundings. There followed his happiest years during which he produced some of his greatest poems, full of new found optimism and love of the world.

He then, at long last, began to receive the acclaim he felt he deserved, giving lectures at University College Dublin and in the USA. In April 1967 he married Katharine Maloney. He died later the same year, a week after being taken ill at the opening performance of the adaptation of Tarry Flynn at the Abbey Theatre.

His poem "On Raglan Road" set to the traditional air "Fáinne Geal an Lae", composed by Thomas Connellan in the 17th century, has been performed by numerous artists as diverse as Van Morrison, Luke Kelly, Dire Straits, Billy Bragg, Sinead O'Connor, Joan Osborne, and many others.



The Poem

While walking on a quiet street, the narrator becomes infatuated by the sight of a beautiful, young woman. He is immediately smitten and, at once, "snared" by her charms. He decides to initiate a relationship with this attractive young woman. Yet, as he meets her for the first time, he has a sense of foreboding. Still, against his better judgment, the speaker risks his heart for this sudden opportunity.

"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”

A theme quickly emerges as the poem captures so brilliantly the self-destructive recklessness that otherwise rational people can display when they fall in love -- no matter how old or mature they think they are.

The couple evidently form a mutual friendship and happily “trip lightly” on Grafton Street as two lovers might do, yet the speaker's daring brush with his "passion pledge" begins upon the “ledge of the deep ravine" that forebodes the end of the relationship. The girl is the "queen" of his heart, yet her love is not reciprocal. And soon he understands he loves her "too much" -- so much that any happiness he attains will soon be merely be lost and "thrown away."

"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."

The narrator's queen is “still making tarts,” which suggests that she is still going about her daily business unaffected by any emotional complications. She seems to be playing him like a deck of cards. After all, he is convinced he is not "making hay."

The Queen of Hearts is an allusion to a poem based on the characters found on playing cards by an anonymous author,  originally published with three lesser-known stanzas -- "The King of Spades," "The King of Clubs," and "The Diamond King"-- in the British publication The European Magazine in April 1782

The poem "The Queen of Hearts" relates that Her Majesty bakes tarts which the Knave of Hearts steals. The King of Hearts has the Knave punished, so he brings them back and pledges not to steal again. This seems to emphasize the lack of station of the suitor in "On Raglan Road." He is but a simple knave in a desperate love.

"The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer's day

The Knave of Hearts
He stole those tarts,
And took them clean away.

The King of Hearts
Called for the tarts,
And beat the knave full sore;

The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he'd steal no more."



The opening lines of the third verse describe the speaker giving the girl romantic “gifts of the mind” which suggests that he is sharing his knowledge, his experience, and his art with her. This would be understandable as Kavanagh was much older and more experienced than his purported female inspiration for the poem.

And, of course, as a poet, Kavanagh is quite skilled in the arts. So, it is likely the narrator, who is evidently convinced he holds “secret signs” of loving and romantic pursuits, trusts the power of his learned words in reflective verse to convince his lady of his esteemed love and devotion.

"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"

The narrator recounts how he gives his love personal poems praising her physical beauty. Yet, these "gifts" must not impress her much, for the poet employs a simile “like clouds over fields of May” that emphasizes a sense of foreboding for the outcome of the relationship. At this point, the speaker seems pathetically desperate and utterly defeated in his efforts of conquest.

The fourth stanza does not reveal how the speaker's relationship ends, but it is apparent no spark fueled a fire. In this, the end of the poem, it seems that some time has past since since the two people have been together.

"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."

In the memory of the narrator, the "ghosts" of his past -- in particular, one elusive lady with dark hair -- still haunt him. But, now with restored reason, he can see the folly of wooing one that doesn't love him, someone he mistakenly thought could be molded like a work of "clay." He understands now he could not "woo" her with such hopeless desire because she was a mortal with her own different, unique emotions.

The word angel (angelos in Greek, malak in Hebrew) means "a person sent" or "a messenger." Their pure, pristine soft wings denote purity. The message for the narrator in this case decries the folly of expecting unadulterated, idyllic love in vain -- foolishly idolizing someone who doesn't care. An angel would be destined to "lose his wings" by breaking this heaven directive.



Real Life Connection

The poem is an ode to unrequited love. Perhaps the poem reveals Kavanagh’s mature understanding
that he could take his own art too seriously. "On Raglan Road" chronicles the seemingly universal frailty of rushing into love, even attempting to remold a one-way relationship. For Patrick Kavanagh, the verse is autobiographical.

The poem is said to be based on an actual experience of Patrick Kavanagh. Patrick's brother, said the verse "was written about Patrick's girlfriend Hilda but to avoid embarrassment he used the name of my girlfriend in the title." The bitterness Patrick felt about the failure of the relationship is described in the lines of ‘On Raglan Road’ and all of the places that he mentions in the ballad -- Grafton Street, Holles Street, St Stephen's Green and the Country Shop -- were all central to the area of Dublin where they had met and walked.

 (Peter Kavanagh. Sacred Keeper. 1980)

His girlfriend's real name was Dr. Hilda Moriarty, then a medical student from County Kerry, who later married Donogh O'Malley, the Irish Minister for Health. Their son is the actor Daragh O'Malley.

 Hilda Moriarty

Patrick was 40 at the time of the affair and Hilda Moriarty was only 22. Moriarty was a fairly impressionable young woman at that time and having an interest in literature she was probably at least amused to have one of Ireland's best-known poets taking an interest in her.


No doubt too the young woman's compassion was stirred by the fact that her admirer was down on his luck while experiencing job difficulties. She treated him very sympathetically, something that Kavanagh perhaps read too much into at the time.

In an interview in 1987, Moriarty said the age gap was the main reason the relationship failed. Dr. Moriarty also described how "Raglan Road" came to be written. Kavanagh had described himself as the peasant poet, but she was not impressed and teased him for writing about mundane things such as vegetables. She said he should write about something else so he agreed to do so. In Kavanagh's eyes, this was an opportunity to transform himself from an small farmer turned poet into the kind of suitor that he felt would be worthy of Hilda's attentions.

According to Dr. Moriarty, he then went away and wrote "On Raglan Road." But, the poem did nothing to re-establish any love affair between Kavanagh and Moriarty.

("The Beauty Who Inspired Kavanagh's 'Raglan Road.'"  
The Independent. June 29, 2004)

Still ...


One biographer adds an interesting twist to the story:

"Hilda however, it turned out had never quite lost her interest in Kavanagh but they only ever met once again at a function in Dublin but that interest did manifest itself after his death. What happened could indicate that the love affair was not as one-sided as Kavanagh might have ever imagined because on his death in November 1967, the woman of his dreams sent a wreath of red roses.

"Whether the love he had shown for her was returned in equal measure will never truly be known. One thing that is certain though is that Kavanagh's feelings for the young lady from Kerry have left her immortalized in verse and given her a place in literature and a degree of immortality that is reserved for the very few."


"We are each of us angels with only one wing, 
and we can only fly by embracing one another." 

~Luciano de Crescenzo



Youtube video "Raglan Road" by Van Morrison. Click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dobte0rRKUA 

Youtube video "Raglan Road" by the Dubliners

Youtube video "Raglan Road" by the Chieftains and Joan Osborne:

  
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