#45 “Inniskeen Road: July Evening” (Patrick Kavanagh)

“Inniskeen Road: July Evening” by Patrick Kavanagh is the first sonnet we’ve seen in the Countdown. There won’t be many; the sonnet is alive and well, but it hasn’t been a predominant verse form in modern English poetry since the early 19th century.

The trick for 20th-century masters of the sonnet (and Kavanagh was one of the greatest) is to observe formal constraints while writing a natural-sounding language. There’s almost nothing in “Inniskeen Road: July Evening” that the poem’s speaker (a rural Irishman of the mid-20th century) mightn’t have said in his everyday speech.

The setting of the sonnet is not literary (a dance in a barn, an uninvited poet). The references in the poem are not recherché. “Alexander Selkirk,” the only unfamiliar name in the poem, is a pretty plain allusion. Selkirk was the castaway who became the model for Robinson Crusoe. He stands here for isolation, in a very direct way. (We call this kind of figure of speech “metonymy,” where an example or a directly connected item stands for something else; it’s the opposite of “metaphor,” where an unlike thing stands for something else. Selkirk is a metonym for being cut off from other people.)

Sonnets like this one fall into a four-part pattern, with 10/11-syllable lines rhyming ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The pattern gives the poet a chance to craft three long sentences (or short paragraphs), each with a vivid idea, and then to round the poem off with a climax in the final two-line couplet. There’s usually a break in subject or idea between the CDCD and EFEF quatrains, as here where the speaker, who’s been describing a social situation, suddenly uses the word “I” for the first time and reveals that he’s been excluded from the party.

There’s irony here. A noisy party is no place for poets, yet all the poet wants is to be part of the fun and forget about his lonely calling for once. But there’s also mystery (a word that appears in the poem’s third line). Why is the poet uninvited? Why isn’t he asked in to participate in the clannish, clubbish, exciting (and dimly, sexually provocative) dance?

We don’t come close to knowing. As so often, a great poem works its magic by virtue of the things it leaves out.


10 responses to “#45 “Inniskeen Road: July Evening” (Patrick Kavanagh)

  1. This poem is very easy to relate to in terms of feeling isolated. Everyone at some point in their live has felt like an outcast or unwanted. The beginning of the poem paints such a happy picture. In the exercise in class I could feel the anticipation of the party goers in each line up until “upon a mile of road, no shadow thrown.” There seems to be such foreboding in that line. Shadows often make you feel as if you are not alone but the absence of them makes you feel forgotten. You feel unimportant that those around you have their “barn dance” and they forgot to invite you perhaps deliberately. I like that Kavanaugh states “I have what every poet hates in spite of all the solemn talk of contemplation.” You often see artists portrayed as wanting to be left alone with their art, genius, or inspiration…whatever. I think that line in the poem is perhaps the important line in the entire poem. As a poet, I feel, he is sharing a secret with the world about poets. He goes on to call himself a king, “king of banks and stones and every blooming thing,” except anything that is living. Except anything that give him an emotional connection.

  2. As I read this poem, the beginning made me think the author was excited and anxious about attending the dance in Billy Brennan’s barn. I quickly realized that the author was excluded in joining everyone else at the party as he described the lack of activity in the neighborhood. Being outcast or social rejection is not a god feeling. We have all been in a similar situation at some point in our lives. In society being excluded can be a result of unpopularity, generally disliked, or even hated by one’s peers. It is highly possible for persecution and discrimination to lead to depression at some point. In the line, “Upon a mile of road, no shadow thrown”, you are able to feel the loneliness described. I also like how at the end he was able to look on the bright side considering the unfavorable situation.

  3. I think this is a poem everyone can relate to. We have all felt this way before. There has been times when we all feel like outkasts and feel as if we do not fit in with other people. In this poem somebody felt like this and wanted to attend the party but did not fit in or was not invited. It is like the feeling of not being invited to “the popular kid’s” party, because your not popular. This feeing can make a person feel sad and unwanted. It probally really hurt the person when they saw the bikes riding past in two’s and three’s going to the party.

  4. The poet shows the isolation and loneliness of being a poet. How he doesn’t fit into society. He notices people cycling together going to a party that he feels he is not invited to. I think it was an open social event He just feels out of place in society and he doesn’t belong at the party or wouldn’t be welcomed. So he just stays being a spectator or commentator as so many poets seem to be. Detached from the normal doings looking in from the outside. An observer. However in the poem he says that poets are lonely and pretty much hate it. They feel socially in intellectual detach from society. But again I don’t think he wasn’t invited to the barn party maybe he was observing as poets do and he figured he couldn’t relate to them or they couldn’t relate to him. I think this is a great poem everyone has been through similar situations were they thought they wouldn’t fit in and instead of trying they sit and observe looking on lonely and isolated.

  5. Why the speaker is uninvited is not exactly clear in the poem. I think a lot of it has to do with him putting himself in the situation. People often do this; they isolate themselves from people and want to be a part of their activities. Some people do this and then complain about it, they try to make it seem like society is attacking them and ignoring them. Of course there are many reasons for isolation. The speaker in the poem might be too busy to interact with these people going to the party or he might be afraid of what people will think of him being a poet. I don’t think the people themselves are actually ignoring him, I think it has to do more with the speaker’s will. If he really wanted to go to the party, or any party, and relieve himself from his self isolation, he would make an effort to interact with people. It doesn’t take much to start a conversation with somebody. It might be a little out of your comfort to do so but you do it, and it happens a lot more often than you realize. I think the poet is afraid of something, “the half-talk code of mysteries,” we don’t know anything about the mysteries but maybe he and the people going to the party do, which could be another reason for him to be uninvited.

  6. This poem kind of reminds me of high school, and the reason I wanted to get out. The poet is talking about how people are going to a barn to party and hang out and he wasn’t going. He feels as if he is left out. Maybe if he would try to interact with some of the people, he wouldn’t feel so left out. I had this problem in high school. I didn’t talk to anyone, because I was afraid of the rejection. I get embarrassed very easily and I didn’t want anyone to be rude to me because I would probably cry. Maybe the poet feels as if he can’t interact with other people because he is shy and doesn’t want to be rejected.

  7. This poem was not one of my favorites, maybe it was the way we read it in class. I found my self feeling sorry for this poet how he did not feel apart of the group. Today in my class room I did look around and was thinking how many of my kids feel the same way, did they feel like the poet. The kid on the play ground not talking anyone was he alone also or was there another story behind his actions.

  8. This Irish sonnet was quit fun to explicate in class. I had used this method previously, but we used it on a short story and not on a poem such as this. The imagery that I received from this was quite startling indeed. I found myself in an Asian country where bicycles are predominantly used, and then transitioned west to Germany by the second line. I guessed by line eight that the poem was indeed set in Ireland because of the “footfall tapping.” This poem is an excellent example of how tone can change through a poem. I agree with the professor that this poem contains a great irony regarding poets. Most of the poets dubbed “Great” have often seemed aloof and hermit-like. I agree with carli27 I believe the person to be a timid man that is not comfortable around other people. There seems to be a longing to communicate with other people, but he is not comfortable expressing himself to others. The reference to Alexander Selkirk is unusual because he was a Pirate that raided Spanish Galleons for loot. This is definitely not a characteristic of a timid poet afraid to crash a barn party. Alexander Selkirk lost most of his ability to speak during the period he was marooned, and after his rescue he gradually regained his vocabulary. Perhaps this is more relevant to the poem at hand…

  9. When picturing a poet I doubt anyone sees them on the middle of a dance floor gallivanting around with a bunch of friends. Most would probably see them more as someone sitting alone in the corner with a solemn look on their face, quietly scribbling away on a sheet of paper. The speaker of this poem is aware of this but somehow wishes it wasn’t so. I imagine the poet questioning himself as to whether he can even be considered a poet if he cannot cope with loneliness. With every profession or hobby comes a sort of stereotype, such as that hairstylists must have great hair and golfers must be wealthy, so must poets be nearly, if not completely, alone. The speaker here finds this to be bittersweet. He likes knowing he is “king” but on this particular night it is not the blessing it has always been. I think everyone at some point feels what the poet is feeling. Some nights you want to be left alone and then on others you wish you were in the midst of everything. There is only so much one can take before the emptiness starts to turn on them.

  10. Inniskeen Road: July Evening

    I decided to go ahead and choose the poem that we analyzed line by line. It’s one of the ways that I can relate to what others are saying and imply my own reasoning to a Patrick Kavanagh poem. Line by line starting with number 1, it seems that there is a day for everyone to get together once a year. Line 2: There are events such as dancing on this special evening. Line 3: Mysteries could be the primary source of ideologies that are interpreted differently and combined to understand what is true and what is false. Line 4: People are socializing, excited and thrilled in their dispositions. Line 5: The main event floor seems to be spotless with no elbow room to move around and have a good time. I think you suggested that “Everybody was at the party.” Line 6: As the night progressed, the sun went down and there were no more shadows of the evening. In other words, there was no sight of the light of day. Line 7: Not even a woman or a man could be seen in the night. Line 8: Footsteps through the night revealed the hardness of heart. Line 9: Poets are suggested to hate deep earnest (10) talk of indecisiveness. Line 11: Alexander Selkirk knew the difficultness of being the king and (12) ruler. (13) Everything in sight is ruled by (14) the king. This poem to me is an outline of how history has made the present. Before our time, people gathered for special occasions, ate with one another and socialized writing the books of our history and present day. Assumptions have created a system of believers to be bias to the point where we are in question about how diversity came about, also truths about religion and the reality of creation. Human beings are blessed with individual gifts and talents. Alexander Selkirk was a King that was cast away with no population and no one to dictate never having to deal with any such foolishness. There he was on the throne, never having to be service to rumors and handling the laws of the land. He could only sort out his own mystery and purpose without the positives and negatives of having a population. I can relate this to John Berryman’s poem “The Ball Poem” in that you only have a certain amount of time to get things right as a little boy. Parents are there to nurture you daily to make sure you are properly maturing. When you become a man, you are alone with the public and your own beliefs to make the decisions of a lifetime. How you face them as a ruler in your own kingdom grants you success even in controversy.

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