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Raglan Road -- Patrick Kavanagh

Guest poem sent in by aravind
(Poem #971) 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.
-- Patrick Kavanagh
I first came across this poem while I was looking up the lyrics for some Mark
Knopfler songs... yeah, he has put this poem to music, and it is one of my
favorites. I have just one word to describe it... haunting... anyways, I was
surprised to find that it wasn't an original Knopfler song, but a poem by
some guy called Kavanagh... I loved the lyrics, so I decided to dig deeper
into his works... I'm not much of a critic, so I'm not going to try to be
one... I just love the poem, and I love the song even more... and I was
surprised to find that Kavanagh didn't have a single entry in the minstrels
list, so I decided to send this poem to the group. I'm also including some
links for more information on the poet.

About the poet:

  Patrick Kavanagh was born at Mucker, Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan in 1904,
  where his father was a small farmer and cobbler.

  He left school at thirteen to plough 'The Stoney Grey Soil of
  Monaghan' and also sit alongside his father at the cobbler's bench.
  Thought a fool by the villagers for his belief that he would become a
  great poet, and scorned by the local farming community as a bad
  farmer, Kavanagh left to pursue his poetical leanings in Dublin.
  Befriended by A. E. (George Russell), he soon began to establish a
  reputation for himself around Dublin's literary pubs, not only for
  his writing abilities, but also for his conceit, his rudeness, his
  colourful language, his caustic tongue and his drinking habits.
  The breakthrough he had hoped for came in 1936 with the publication
  in London of the autobiographical 'Tarry Flynn'.

  Patrick Kavanagh died in Dublin on 30th November 1967, bringing to a
  close the life of one of Ireland's most controversial and colourful
  literary figures. It is somehow ironic that while his lifestyle and poetry
  are virtually the alter image of Yeats, both men are today widely regarded
  at the most influential of Ireland's twentieth century poets.

  [broken link]

~Aravind V

27 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Emmet Moorehouse said...

Kavanagh's poem is, as was previously pointed out, quite haunting. It is also very sad and contains a wistful kind of wisdom. The most wonderful musical rendering of the poem is by Luke Kelly. I now find it impossible to think of this poem without thinking of Kelly's version. Check it out.
Emmet Moorehouse, China.

Simon Kidd said...

It's may be slightly misleading to say that Knopfler put the poem to music.
It had been put to music before and I have a version performed by The
Dubliners. I haven't heard Knopfler's rendition (much as I'd like to, as I'm
a fan of his), so I don't know if it's the same music.

Mary Margaret O'Hara said...

I am curious about the relationship of the Poem Raglan
Road to the Mythological story of Pygmalion and
Galatea. I see a connection between the two stories
and I'm interested in discussing this with someone who
might no more about it. Please respond if you can or
pass this along if you know someone who knows. Thank

Keith Hackwell said...

Luke Kelly of the Dubliners sang this poem to a traditional tune (Dawning of
the Day) - I assumed it was written to suit the rhythm and cadence of the
folk song. Surprised to learn of Kavanaghs background as the essence of the
poem seems to be of an highly educated aesthete not up to giving his love
physical expression ( or satisfaction).
I will have to find out more about him.

Great poem tho hard to read without hearing Luke's voice and marvellous
musical arrangement.

Keith Hackwell

thekingsvenue said...

Luke Kelly's rendition is definitely the definitive version of this song

James Carney said...

Just stumbled across this trying to find the words to Raglin Road. If you want to hear the definitive version set to music, forget Messers Kelly and Knopfler and listen to Van Morrison's rendition on the album he recorded with The Chieftains -guaranteed to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck!

James Carney

Fairways Business Park
Deer Park Road
EH54 8AF



----- Disclaimer - 19/06/2003 -----

Gavin McGahan said...

Patrick Kavanagh met Luke Kelly of the Dubliners in a pub one night. (Both liked a drink) Neither had a liking for each other but had a mutual respect for each others talents. Kavanagh told Kelly he had a song for him. Kelly wasn't all that interested. Eventually Kelly took the lyrics off Kavanagh after being told by him to sing it to the air of the song The Dawning of the Day. Kelly left it alone for some time before rediscovereing the lyrics some time later. When Kelly started singing it with that air he realised that those lyrics were more suited than the original. Luke Kellys version is the original and definitive. Raglan Road is now widely regarded as Luke Kellys signature tune. Most people rarely remember that it was Kavanaghs who wrote the lyrics. People who speak of Knofpler and Van Morrison having the best version haven't heard Luke Kellys version. Don't scorn that comment until you go away and find Kellys version.

Tim.O'Connell said...

Patrick Kavanagh wrote Raglan Road as a poem and asked the author Benedict
Kiely if it could be sung to the tune, Fainne Geal an Lae (Dawning of the
Day). With Benedict Kiely's help, Kavanagh himself worked the poem to the
air of Dawning of the Day.

PADDY4514 said...

In rellation to a note on Kavanagh on some site I read

Hilda O'Malley's husband Donogh seems to have been a remakable man where can
I get more info on this guy?

There does not seem to be any biography on him and from where I am sitting
he seems to have conceived the Tiger in the 60's Is he a forgotten Irishman?

Many Thanks

Patrick Trent Catling

Rich Wilson said...

'Raglan Road' sung by Amy White and accompanied by Al
Petteway on their 2004 CD "Golden Wing" (Maggie's
Music) has my vote for the most enchanting version of
Patrick Kavanagh's lyrics.

Kristofer Moore said...

Just responding to Raglan road. I think that it is strange how dynamic this poem is. I was never aware that the author was known. Everytime I have heard it performed by a major artist they list the writer as "Traditional". I think that Peter Rowan does a great bluegrass version of this on "Wall of Time" album. That was the first time I heard the song, when I was about 8 years old. I'm 31 now and have heard the song performed by local Irish bands that we heckle until they do it, Van Morrison, The Dubliners, etc. A lot like moonshiner in that many people have performed this and respect the beauty of the words but they put their own twist on it. I also agree with Mary, who said that this was based on Pygmilion. No doubt about that, If the author based it on Hilda O'Malley he was still relating her somehow to the pygmilion.

Kristofer Moore

Alan Purslow said...

Luke Kelly is to me the only singer who can reach the heart of this
poem/song. I remember his performing it with the Dubliners on St
Patrick's Day on BBC Radio 2 in the early seventies. The show was hosted
by Jimmy Ellis (Z Cars) and also featured The Johnstons. I recorded the
show on a reel to reel recorder but, sadly, the tapes were later lost in
various house moves. I met Jimmy Ellis in a pub in Holywood, Co. Down a
few years ago and he remembered the show too. Ah, Luke, if only you were
alive for us to tell you how moved we can still be by your voice.

Alan Purslow

Colin Finnie said...

RAGLAN ROAD by Patrick Kavanagh

What's it about? Maybe poems should be left to speak for themselves, but Raglan Road is truly problematical. The speaker is an angel, and angels are always masculine. The object of his affection is mortal, and there is a superstition that angels lose their wings if they stoop to anything as vulgar as human emotion. A similar superstition informs Kipling's Dedication from Barrack-Room Ballads in which those who 'sit at wine with the maidens nine' have been
"purged of pride ... cleansed of base desire, sorrow and lust and shame ...
Gods who knew the hearts of men, men for they stooped to Fame"

In Kavanagh's poem, angel and mortal walk the ledge above the chasm of mutual promise. The angel gives her his spiritual and intellectual gifts but cannot bring himself to make the ultimate human commitment. As a result, he loses her.

The angel's dilemma may seem fanciful, but bear in mind Kavanagh's Catholic upbringing. In that context, the angel's agony of doubt is guilt-induced. The poet's voice is then the voice of one whose expression of emotion has been inhibited by an over-sensitive conscience.

And there it is - just one of the layers of meaning in this marvellous poem.

Colin Finnie

Pat Pomphrett said...

This poem was orignially put to music by the Dubliners, to the tune of
the Dawning of the Day. I have not heard Mark Knofflers version, it may
well be the same tune. Anyway the tune was immortalised by Luke Kelly of
the Dubliners, whose recording is the definintive version. It has been
uploaded to youtube for anyone who might wish to hear it.

Mmacrory said...

Everyone, in Ireland at least, knows the story behind Raglan Road.
Patrick Kavanagh is a much beloved poet in Ireland, and incidently
there is a Raglan Road in Dublin, where Hilda apparantly walked.
If you log on to the RTE [Irish radio] and go into the archives you
can see, and listen to a short interview with Hilda. She is still very
beautiful. Kavanagh personally choose Luke Kelly to sing the song.
I have been a HUGE Van Morrison fan all my life and he does a
beautiful version of it, but no one come close to Luke Kelly.
Luke Kelly is another much beloved Irish man, we even have a statue
of him in Dublin. He died in 1984. Patrick Kavanagh knew what he was
doing when he choose Luke, his version is quite simply amazing.
Listen for yourself, go to Utube, type in Luke Kelly and get your
hankie out, you're going to need it. Also read the posts, you will see
for your self how much he is loved.

Richard Hall said...

The theme of Raglan Road is best expressed by a line from Hamlet: "Lust, thought to a radiant angle linked, shall sate itself in a celestial bed, and prey on garbage." Well, garbage is a bit harsh, but that's Shakespeare. It seems to me what Kavanagh is saying is that physical love, especially love based on strong sexual attraction takes us down a road away from happiness; it brings one to disappointment and disillusion, regardless of how sincere our intent might be.

The poet is attracted to his love's "dark hair"; it ensnares and bewitches him. He succumbs, although not without misgivings: "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." He'll go along, and pay the cost later, after all, tomorrow is another day. "The Queen of Hearts is making tarts" refers to the pleasures of sex, while "I not making hay" alludes to the necessary distraction from more productive activity. Kavanagh does not underplay the joy of physical attraction, nor its own profound beauty, as expressed in the beautiful simile "her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May"

Here is the pitiful part: the better angels of man's nature, the spiritual, the esthetic side, the "gifts of the mind .... the secret sign that's known to the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone and word and tint" are unavailing gifts, they cannot alter the foretold ending. Love based on a strong physical attraction, though overpowering and intensely pleasurable, is (perhaps for that reason) unstable - what a tragedy, no? As entrancing as it may be, like a dose of opium, a love based on sexual attraction, his love's "dark hair" must end badly, but, yet, we cannot say no, just the same; human nature makes us prey to the snare.

The aftermath is played out on a road traveled by ghosts, memory, where his love hurries away from him, as a fading memory might. He had not seen his love for what it was, sex, "the Queen of Hearts making tarts". It could not last, it was a temporary, a momentary stay in paradise, but hoping it might last, in an effort to make it so, he gave her the most precious things he might have,"gifts of the mind" But the harder one tries an undoable thing, the worse the disappointment, the greater the loss.

"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" The angel is the poet's spiritual side, his desire for ideal love. His disillusionment, the deep sorrow at his loss, a lasting, hurtful, scar in his memory, is the angel's loss of wings in the morning, the fallen leaf he foresaw earlier. "That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay", I believe means one should not expect that art, or esthetic values, can change our fundamental nature; the ideal is unattainable, we are creatures made of clay, not angels.


gabriell mullally said...

donogh o malley was minister for education and introduced free secondary for all children,a friend of charlie haughey,and related to des o malley founder of the progressive democrats,they are an old limerick family,he married hilda who kavanagh had fallen in love with,they had two children darragh[friend of oliver reed and richard harris another limerick man,and an actor,]darragh is an actor,and susan.

Anonymous said...

Luke Kelly was the best, Dubliners are the best ballad singers in Ireland.

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