March 15, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Part 1: Patrick Kavanagh & Luke Kelly

In celebration of of St. Patrick's Day, I will use this opportunity to make it Irish week here on The Sequestered Nook, and do my best to bring you a bit of Irishness every day. It would be an understatement to say that I love Irish Literature. For those few of my readers who don't know me personally, I'll briefly share the progression of my love for Ireland and its writers. My sophomore year of college I had a wonderfully inspiring Irish Lit professor (specifically, the class was called 'Conflict & Identity in Irish Literature'). So inspiring, in fact, that I realized that it was Ireland (not Rome as I had previously thought) where I wanted to study abroad. So, I spent a wonderful semester taking amazing courses (including Irish Folk Tales, Irish Music, and a class just on Ulysses) at University College Dublin and traveling around Ireland. I miss it a lot, and still love no genre or origin of books more than those of Ireland. The Irish really know how to harness tragedy, humor, love, and loss to make them into great literature and poetry.

To kick off Irish week, here is Patrick Kavanagh's beautiful poem "On Raglan Road." I especially love this poem because of the song that it became. The story is that Patrick Kavanagh ran into Luke Kelly (of The Dubliners) in a pub, and told Kelly that he would like him to set his poem to music. Music is such an inherent part of Irish culture, and especially its poetry that is so often told primarily through song, that this pairing is so naturally perfect. The poem is gorgeous on its own, but Luke Kelly's musicalization of it brings it to another beautiful level. Here is the poem:

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, 1946

Here is Luke Kelly's song "Raglan Road." Honesty, sometimes I just listen to it on loop. So beautiful.

And, for reference's sake, here is another version of "Raglan Road" that I enjoy. It is by Glen Hansard of the the bands The Frames and The Swell Season and, more importantly, of the wonderful Irish film Once. It doesn't quite contain the emotion or transcendence of Luke Kelly's version, but it is still beautiful.

Stay tuned for more Irish greatness tomorrow!

(Image via UCC)

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