#17 “Canal Bank Walk” (Patrick Kavanagh)

Patrick Kavanagh’s sonnet “Canal Bank Walk” is, by my reckoning, the greatest sonnet written in English in the past 200 years. It was written after Kavanagh, not at all an old man (about 50, the same age I am now) was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had surgery to remove a lung. He recovered from his illness and its treatment by walking along the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin, pausing to sit on the benches there from time to time.

“Canal Bank Walk” is no more than that in its conception – not even that, because the speaker doesn’t refer to any of the specifics of Kavanagh’s life. The poem’s situation might be that of anyone who needs to “grow with nature again”: any of us, actually.

The poem uses a variable number of syllables in each line, with about five strong stresses in each: it is one of the most confident free variations on the sonnet form that I’ve ever read. And that free variation “enacts” the meaning of the poem. It is about growing free of constraints. It is about vitality overcoming decay, as Emily Dickinson might have put it, and it is astonishingly alive.

The ending of the poem, to me, sums up poetry and in fact the academic humanities. “Arguments that cannot be proven” rarely convince scientists, mathematicians, or philosophers. Nor do they convince the many positivists among us, people who want everything to be measurable and answerable. (For instance, how can I prove that this is exactly the 17th-best short poem in the modern English language?) But human life, both physical and spiritual, exists at its fullest in such “green and blue things.”


18 responses to “#17 “Canal Bank Walk” (Patrick Kavanagh)

  1. This poem is a very elegant, pure and spiritual poem. I enjoyed how well the speaker describes everything he sees on this canal bank walk. I can sense that he has deep respect for nature and is appreciative of it. I would never have thought of sticks stuck together as kissing, but I like the way that sounds. It shows nature as a gift of love. No wonder people say it’s good to go out and take a walk and observe nature after a stressful day. This poem helps me further understand the saying, “Go out and enjoy nature.” The speaker of the poem and I both agree that nature is a wonderful gift from God. Nature aids us in building a closer relationship with God. There haven’t been many “happy” or “joyful” poems in this countdown, but this one is and I really liked it!

  2. I kind of got the feeling that the poem had a somber tone to it; there wasn’t really any form of happiness in it. It then made sense or clicked when I found out that the poet of this poem, Patrick Kavanagh, was a cancer patient who was recovering from the illness at the time this poem was written. I can understand where he’s coming from because when one has a terminal illness like cancer that can cause death, they tend to have a low spirit–that means that they become not so excited about life than they did before the illness. However, this poem does convey the message that nature is a natural healer for the soul–might not necessarily heal the body but it could heal the soul. The way the speaker describes the beautiful works of nature while taking his walk is uplifting; it makes one want to go out and take a walk to experience what he experienced. I like this poem better than the other poem covered in class because it’s just beautiful to read.

  3. I compeletly agree that the language and tone is quite beautiful. It paints a very vivid picture for me. It makes me feel blessed to be alive and well. I feel that I’ve taken each healthy and vibrant day for granted. I think we should all take a walk to refelct on what we have and what we stand to lose. I tend to lead a very fast past life along with alot of other people who just don’t tak the time to appreciate what God gave us. It’s sad becuase you really don’t know what you have until it is gone! This poem makes me want to make a conscious effort to be more open and loving to new people and ideas because tomorrow is not promised.

  4. andreamcginley

    I love the language of this poem. Each line of words just flows out of the mouth. It makes the poem seem so natural, and effortless. This poem makes me want to be outside and just look around at everything and soak in the healing power of nature as the speaker explains. Though we talked in class about how this poem could relate to faith in some omniscient being, I feel more that he is speaking of the faith in natural things, because of the line “Grow with nature again as before I grew.” From the beginning of time people have used nature as a means of healing; the herbs that are grown from the soil have always and are still today used to make one feel better. The best example of this that I can think of is herbal tea, whenever I have a cold it seems to just warm my soul and wash away the ailment. Even today the rain forests are a prime real estate for finding new materials that may be helpful for sickness that we have yet to find remedies for. The speaker alludes to the need of something that he is unable to get in today’s market of medicine when he says “Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
    To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech”. This reminds me of old tales when people talk about nature speaking to them and finding a deeper meaning to life, or when they just have an issue and are unable to solve it. I know that whenever I am stressed a nice long walk calms my nerves and makes the days’ woes vanish and seem petty. The last two lines of the poem are what stood out most to me because from the background of the poet we know that he was recovering from having a lung removed, and the speaker of the poem goes on to say, “For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven” which acts as a description of a rebirth, the speaker has turned a new leaf and is ready to begin a new life as a new person. Furthermore, the speaker gives tribute to the nature in the last line by saying “From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven” which to me I did not take as a faith argument but an argument for the healing power of nature. The speaker made it seem like a miracle for him to be starting a new life, and sometimes we are unable to pin point the reason for things happening, but still we accept them and are thankful that they did.

  5. spontaneous12

    Canal Bank Walk

    Redemption for the speaker has been not to wallow in the everyday habits of the world but doing the will of God. After surviving cancer and having to remove one of his lungs, it was sort of like a life changing experience in his career. He desires to grow with nature again. He walks along banks as he is given another chance to appreciate living. His walks also brought him closer to God. He sees various events that remind him of God’s love such as the couple kissing on an old seat and the unexplainable nature of the wind. How can you prove nature’s existence nevertheless faith and new hope? The word for the speaker was unmistakably new and divine for him in a time of need. “Give me ad lib to pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech.” It seems as if he doesn’t feel he deserves the new water that he has received and been fulfilled upon. He desires to have his lips speak of something new and refreshing to the Lord. It is not every day that someone overcomes an illness in the 50’s. So he wants the world to capture him, and to feed his senses. His soul yearns to be honored with renewal and a new outlook on life as well as a different approach on the unresolved issues of arguments that go unsolved and unproven.

  6. from DeCarlo Coleman:
    “I really enjoyed reading this poem because the vocabulary takes over to create a mental picture in order for you. In the lines, and a bird gathering materials for the nest for the word, eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat, you are able to pay attention to the little things in life that you wouldn’t normally notice. Those lines make you want to stop and appreciate the earth around us, our culture is so fast paced that we are too busy to enjoy the things around us. There are not many people who have been able to sit and watch a bird build its nest, I can personally say that I have been fortunate enough to experience it. I will never forget it because at the time I wasn’t sure what the bird was doing but I quickly realized what was taking place in my presence. I watched this bird for almost an hour as the bird took the same flight pattern at the same speed, at the same height each time gathering twigs to use for its new home.”

  7. I like how Professor Morris describes the poem as being free from constraint. After reading the poem again I would have to agree. It is as thought the speaker just wants to be one with nature and what is freer from constraint than nature. The way he describes the stick in the canal, the breeze, the grass, and a web remind me of how nature moves freely. When he says, “green waters… pouring redemption for me,” it is like nature is rescuing him. All he needs in order to be happy and calm is to experience the movement of nature.

    The last part of the poem, “arguments that cannot be proven,” also ties in to the natural happenings described in the poem. Many times there are things that happen naturally that we cannot explain. I feel that it is ok to let some things go unanswered, whether it is in relation to nature or to our everyday lives. I think what is more important than an answer is the way we feel, and the speaker in the poem does not need any type of evidence or proof for any problems or situations, I think the speaker is content with just going with the flow and enjoying the canal.

  8. Growing up in South-Eastern Europe and enjoying the nature there made me appreciate it so much more after I moved to Texas and was away from it. It is hard to be able to unwind your mind in a raucous urban setting. I can sense from my own experiences that the speaker shares the same outlook like I do; that if we are in a growing environment surrounded by all of nature’s beauties, we feel more spiritual and tranquil. The happiness that the speaker feels is also related to the fact that he was in a hospital for what was probably a long time and missed out on the outside world, and once he got out of there, he realized how beautiful the world truly is. Many other students wrote about the speakers’ illness and how he was appreciative of the world around him because he realized that as humans we take things for granted-I completely agree with these statements. It would be great if our lives weren’t so ‘busy’ all the time and we could take a few moments to look around us and appreciate nature simply because it is so beautiful. For some strange reason, I enjoy reading poems with ‘over-the-top language’ and this is one of them. The language that is used in the poem instructs my mind to look deeper into the meaning of each word and make a connection to the rest of it.

  9. As i read this poem, I pictured a man enjoying the beauty of nature almost too much. I am not trying to imply that this is a bad thing but the way he described what he saw during his simple walk, seemed almost super natural. The way he mentioned that the couple kissing on the bench was almost magical. It was as if the character was dreaming the whole event. This poem illustrates one mans appreciation for what god has provided for him.

  10. I love the tone of this poem. It puts you in a calm and relaxing mood. I love how the poet describes naturevas being calm and loving. I love to go outside and take walks, especially in the country because it is peaceful. Nature puts me at ease and makes me think about life. I think we should all take time out of our busy lives and enjoy nature. The language of the poem was also beautiful.

  11. Nature is a beautiful thing to experience. And like mentioned above, it has and will continue to be a part of our well being. The speaker is truly enjoying his walk on canal and observes natures magnificence. After a tragic incident like Kavanagh’s one really appreciates nature and what it offers us, freedom from the hectic fast-paced world. Almost every summer I visit my hometown of Los Angeles, California. In the city there is no real freedom from anything, unless you lock yourself in your house, which gets boring really quick. Every time I visit, I go up into the mountains and stay a whole day. I bring a knife, and a few bottles of water and just go. I leave anything that could connect me to anyone or anything in the car. The experiences are always unique and ones I will never forget. For that whole day, I don’t think about home, the city, work, school, etc. I just enjoy the freedom I have at the time. It’s like being in your own world and living in complete tranquility. I can imagine the speaker feeling the same way after his recovery and going out and experiencing nature again as a new person.

  12. I have never had a near death experience and can only imagine what it feels like. The closest I have ever come has been the feeling as though I was dying, but knowing I was never in any real danger. Still then, when you come out of the hospital, or wherever you may be when such an event takes place, everything in your surroundings seems to have a more deep meaning. We often take everyday life for granted, going about our business and thinking of how tomorrow is a new day. When faced with death, your mind starts thinking in immediate terms rather than of the future and all things seem more special than they did before. This poem describes that feeling of wanting to come back to what once was dull and to see it now through new eyes. Most people, including myself, believe if this happened to them, they would rather escape the normal and see amazing things around the world. Still, because I have not experienced what the speaker in the poem has, I can only guess that perhaps I would feel the same way should such a thing ever happen to me. Maybe all of us would do as the speaker, but some of us will never know.

  13. This poem is all about nature and its beauty. I enjoyed this poem, mainly for the wording, or vocabulary used in it. The plants in this poem are very lush, green, and leafy. The poem just kind of puts a smile on my face. It seems almost as if it were very elegant.

  14. Patrick Kavanaghs poem “Canal Bank Walk” is a pleasant poem with a spiritual meaning. From reading this poem it makes you appreciate nature and the beauty of it. I have found myself at times walking and thanking God for the trees, birds, the sun and the beauty of nature. To do the will of God as stated in the poem could be just to take care of this beautiful earth that God has created and see the true beauty that it possess. To connect with nature gives you a sense of appreciation for life. This is a spiritual poem that expresses appreciation for life and nature. Canal Bank Walk is a short poem with a lot of meaning, a lot of spiritual meaning to me and for me. My favorite part is the last stanza but the line that really speaks to me is “To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech”. To pray unselfconsciously will come straight from the heart with no false additives. I must say this poem will remain as a part of my collection from the countdown.

  15. I like this poem because it is written right after a dangerous surgery. I have had a serious surgery and came out of it with indeed a new appreciation for things. Some of it was just to be around familiar things and people. Patrick Kavanagh writes “wallow in the habitual” I think this is a beautiful phrase because it is almost all we really know is what is around us. The things in life that are very simple and require little or no payment are truly the most fulfilling.

  16. “Canal Bank Walk” by Patrick Kavanagh is a great poem with a nice rhyme to it. The walk on this bank is very well described, and this poem does a great job of throwing you right on that bank with everyone else there. This poem definitely has a positive tone to it and I really like that. Many of the darker poems are good, but just don’t give me anything but depression. I like how this poem points out how the unexplainable things we know are sometimes the most beautiful. The ending is very well written.

  17. Everything in this poem to me is about love, life, re-birth and embracing all of these feelings and changes. It seems he has gone back to a child like state no longer believing or thinking logical like an adult. Maybe it can be described as child like faith. Having no doubt that nature/God can give him love, life etc. Nature is free and beautiful and it has no worries if something disatrous happens it just regrows stronger than ever. It continues on bringing great energy with it. I feel that is what the poet wants, to be worry free, be admired as we admire nature, to be loved and full of life. To start over. He’s at the mercy of God and nautre and I don’t think it bothers him because of his child like faith. He honestly believes he will get what he needs from the two. It seems like he is celebrating his surroundings his new beginnings’. This is a very calm tone. It seems like a very religious poem of faith, redemption, and grace. A rebirth through nature. It’s the theme of the poem as well as the imagery.

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