October 25th, 1939
FROM THE ARCHIVES:The outbreak of war in 1939 got poet Patrick Kavanagh thinking of a peaceful rural contrast in his native Monaghan in a long atmospheric article from which this is an extract.
MIDNIGHT IN Dublin. A wild, but not cold, October wind is driving rain against my window. The last buses are swishing by on the glassy-bright streets. The radio in the flat above me has stopped forwarding to this address the mixture of blathes and jazz which is called propaganda, and which is supposed to influence the masses.
Such of it as has filtered through the ceiling has had another effect on me. Being an Irishman I should be abnormal if I didn’t dream, think and write of far-past peace and quiet in pastoral fields when everybody else is thinking in terms of war.
And just now I remember. Oh, no, I see. In the mirror of this mood I see. What?
An October evening in a country place. A small farmhouse among leaf-lamenting poplars. In a garden before the house men are pitting potatoes. A cart is heeled up. Two men are working at the back of the cart unloading the potatoes with their muddy hands, while a boy with a stable lamp stands by the horse’s head.
The horse snaps at the top of a tall, withered thistle.
“Howl up there, Charlie,” the boy says, and gives a tug to the rein. “Have yez them near emptied?” – he addresses the men.
“Half a minute, Tom.”
“Then I may pull down the shafts!”
“Aw, yes, ye may.”
“Listen, chaps,” one of the men says as he gropes about him in the darkness, “did any of yez see the tail-boord? Now they are tackling the horse.
“How many links do I drop?”
“Aw, it doesn’t matter a damn; we’re only goin’ to run the cart into the shed.”
“Right ye be.”
The wind rattles a loose sheet of corrugated iron on the cart-house. An old bucket takes a fitful run in the wind. A woman standing in the doorway of the house calls: “Will yez be long?”
For a moment I avert my gaze from the mirror of memory, and am again aware of Dublin and the last blue-lit ghost bus passing. I remember some wild talk of a war in Europe. Who is this referred to it? Oh, yes, that radio commentator. But I know that beyond the headlines, beneath the contemporary froth and flurry, the tide of humanity flows calm.
And was I once part of this simple, deep life? Did I once experience the joy of being one of those people, part of that experience? The joy of it. Stark and lonely it might seem at times, grey and forlorn as the night poplars of late autumn, but it was real life among real folk, without the fake conventions that put gilt on tin-pot souls.
No high-faluting culture.
Cruel and vulgar those folk might be at times or vexingly peasant-deceitful: but there was in them in a greater or lesser degree something of the sensitivity which is part of the poet’s misery – an unprotected heart.
It is midnight in Dublin, and Europe is at war.