“Patrick Kavanagh - An Irish Pastoral Poet in the City”

Rosemarie Rowley


Patrick Kavanagh was born in 1904, came of age just after the First World War, and began his poetic apprenticeship in the 1920s when he wrote verses which were the essence of pastoral. Just before the break-out of the Second World War, he came to Dublin, where he was to spend most of his life, with some time spent in London in the 1950s. In his work, we can trace a journey from the first self-conscious verses of a country poet imbued with the spirit of creation, to an artist of major importance in the 20th century, when he developed and evolved a new aesthetic about the situation of a country man in Dublin. This personal aesthetic, which has been defined in the 1990s by the eco-critic and poet Terry Gifford as “post-pastoral,” was not only bound to have resonance with all city dwellers, but also indirectly touched upon issues of religious, national and social identities in its combined preservation and transformation of Kavanagh’s rural Irish roots as an alternative to the discourses prevailing at the time―revivalist nationalism and political polarisations. His work can now be read as an illustration of the place of human consciousness in the ecological web, for his poetic autobiographies intertwine with his first experience of an unbounded Nature in the countryside, a love that, when recollected, transformed his poetry in the city in his later years. As this biographical survey of his poetic development shows, Kavanagh’s particular brand of “urban pastoral,” what the Romans would have called rus in urbe, is not merely elegiac for the past left behind in the countryside; we can see it too as a “post-pastoral” move that relies on the categories of “immanence” and “beauty” to make Culture inseparable from Nature. Kavanagh’s poetry, therefore, also constitutes an idyllic quest for personal integrity in our times.


Patrick Kavanagh; 20th-century Irish poety; (post-)pastoral; urban poetics; mysticism; ecopiety

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549