Technique and Style


Kavanagh's use of language is a vital ingredient in his work in attempting to create a sense of the mystery and magic of a child's mind. Kavanagh uses words in a new and imergerating fashion.

Neologism - that is, the creation or coinage of new words, is a common element in Kavanagh's language. He achieves this by joining two or more existing words together in a hyphenated form to create a new word. Examples of this are found in all his poems:

a) Stony Grey Soil - "clod-conceived"; "thick-tongued"; "green-life-conquering".

b) Advent - "Advent-darkened"; "spirit-shocking"; "heart-breaking".

c) Memory of my Father - "half-eyed"; "October-coloured".

d) Inniskeen Road: July Evening - "half-talk"; "wink-and-elbow".

e) Canal Bank Walk - "leafy-with-love".

f) Lines Written... - "far-flung"; "canal-bank"; "mid-July".

The effect of these hyphenated words is to create a simplicity of image, a two rather that three dimensional picture mirroring the simplicity of the child's mind or the sense of awe and wonder that the poet possesses -: "wherever life pours ordinary plenty".

Kavanagh also creates new words by coining adverbs and adjectives from existing nouns. Again the effect is to create a sense of mystery and wonder. In "Lines Written" words such as 'stilly', 'greeny', 'Niagariously' and 'Parnassian' represent this feature of Kavanagh's language. Related to this is Kavanagh's habit of combining existing words to form a new one. In "Advent", the word 'dreeping' is a fusion of the words dripping and creeping which is designed to create in the mind of the reader the qualities of both words. Words like these reflect the creativity not just of Kavanagh, but of the uninhabited mind of the child.

Hyperbole: this is a further feature of Kavanagh's language which reflects the powers of his imagination. In "Lines Written..." Kavanagh speaks of -: "The tremendous silence of mid-July"; he states that the water is moved through the lock Niagarously, that fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges, that the towns dotted along the banks of the canal produce mythologies. He suggests that the canal boats are Parnassian islands. In "Canal Bank", hyperbole is also evident in phrases such as delirious beat, fabulous grass and gaping need. In "Inniskeen Road", the comparison with Alexander Selkirk leads him to consider Inniskeen Road as 'a mile of kingdom'. "Advent" contains many examples of hyperbole -: "The spirit-shocking wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill", "the luxury of a child's soul".

Allusion: Kavanagh's use of this is a very important aspect of his language. In "Stony Grey Soil", he refers to the poise and stride of Apollo. In "Advent" he alludes to the nativity-: "old stables where Time begins". In "Inniskeen Road", he refers to Alexander Selkirk. Colloquial language is an intrinsic element of Kavanagh's style. His phraseology is conversational and many of his phrases owe their origin to his Monaghan background-: "Among descent men to who burrow dung" - "he stared at me half eyed" - "every blooming thing".

Structure - Form: The poems on the course display Kavanagh's ability of the sonnet form which is a structural feature of "Inniskeen Road", "Advent", "Lines Written..." and Canal Bank Walk". In "Inniskeen Road", Kavanagh combines features of the Patriarchal and Shakespearean forms. Stanzaic pattern reflects the Patriarchal subdivision of a sonnet to an octet and sestet. In the octet a picture is painted by the poet and the problems are posed. The poets own personal response is contained in the sestet. The opening stanza can be subdivided into two quatrains each containing a separate picture of Monaghan life. The sestet also can be divided into a quatrain and couplet, therefore mirroring the Shakespearean division into three quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme of the poem is also Shakespearean-: abab, cdcd, efef, gg. "Advent" represents Kavanagh's particular use of the sonnet form. The poem is an amalgam of two sonnets. The stanzaic pattern is neither Patriarchal nor Shakespearean. The opening two stanzas each contain seven lines with the third stanza representing an entire sonnet. The division of the sonnet into two septets is unusual and Kavanagh formulates a rhyme scheme to parallel this-: aabbccbd, aab, aacc. Stanza three is again different as Kavanagh reverts to the Shakespearean rhyming technique -: abab, cded, fgfg, hh. The thought pattern of the third stanza follows that set out by the opening two stanza with a natural pause occurring at the end of the seventeenth line. The reason why Kavanagh does not create a fourth stanza is that the rhythm of the third stanza reflects the excitement that Kavanagh associates with having rediscovered "the luxury of a child's soul" The three stanzas in the poem reflects the three stages in Kavanagh's bid to regain this position - penance, forgiveness, grace.

"Canal Bank Walk" is written in the traditional 14 line sonnet form with no stannic separation. In this poem, Kavanagh combines both the Patriarchal and Shakespearean sonnets using the same methods as in "Inniskeen Road".

"Lines Written..." is fashioned completely in the Patriarchal style. Both the thought pattern and the rhyming scheme follow an octet-sestet sublimation.

"Stony Grey Soil" and "Memory..." are reminiscent of ballad technique in that they each feature four line stanzas, however, Kavanagh doesn't stick rigidly to the rhyming schemes of the ballad again displaying his ability to individualise a fashion or feature.

Religion: is a dominant feature in Kavanagh's poetry both as a theme and as source of imagery. Religion features thematically in "Advent", "Canal Bank Walk" and in a minor way in "Stony Grey Soil". "Advent" derives from religion in both it's theme and main source of imagery. The theme of the poem is penance-forgiveness-grace which reflects the Catholic churches seasons of Advent, the nativity and the beginning of the new church year. Kavanagh formulates his wish to return to the state of innocence as a child within the imagery of religion using original sin to represent acquired knowledge, penance as a main act of contrition and the grace of the forgiven soul as the newly required state of innocents. In "Canal Bank Walk" the theme is one of redemption reflecting baptism as Kavanagh draws analogies between the waters of the baptismal font and the water of the canal. In "Stony Grey Soil", Kavanagh refers to the 'peasants prayer'-a recognition of the close relationship between religion and life in his native Monaghan.

Environment: Kavanagh was unquestionably a poet place formed to a large extent by his experiences in his native Monaghan and later in his adopted Dublin. "Stony Grey Soil" depicts best, Kavanagh's preoccupation with environment . It shows the bitterness and the tragedy of his life there. His awareness is hypersensitive and this allowed him to fear the brutality of the 'Stony Grey Soil'. In the poem he is ill at ease in an environment and culture he condemns. He uses verbs such as clogged, and burgled to display his sense of desperation and loss. In the first five stanzas of the poem, Kavanagh attacks the dreariness and drabness of his native environment. It is one of 'steaming dung hills' that gave rise to a stumble and a thick-tongued mumble. It was an environment dominated by agriculture, here symbolised by the plough - a plough that robbed him of the happiness and gaiety of youth -: "Your mandrill strained, your coulter blunted In the smooth lea-field of my brow." However, the change that occurs in the final two and a half stanzas suggests that Kavanagh has a love-hate relationship with his native environment. The negative images are now countered by an underweave of love-:

"You flung a ditch in my vision (negative)

Of beauty, love and truth." (love)

"Lost the long hours of pleasure

All the women that love young men."(love)

The paradox of the final line-:

"Dead loves that were born for me"

best illustrates the paradox, that is, his attitude to his native Ireland. Therefore, Kavanagh in this poem has a tow-edged attitude to the environment of his youth. The caustic accusatory tone is countered by a softer, affectionate tone, the argument with himself has produced the poetry.

Although Kavanagh arrived in Dublin in 1939, leaving behind his sixteen acres of stony grey soil, it was not, until the mid 1950's that his adopted city provided the environmental background to his work. The summer of 1955 and the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin are the time and place which moved Kavanagh to write "Canal Bank Walk" and "Lines Written...".

Kavanagh's attitude to the environment changed dramatically following his operation for lung cancer. He said "As a poet I was born in or about 1955, the place of my birth being the banks of the Grand Canal". This new appreciation of the environment, his vision of Eden is evident in his novel "Tarry Flynn", where he wrote "O the rich beauty of the weeds in the ditches, Tarry's heart cried: the lush Nettles and Docks and tuffs of grass. Life pouring out in critical abundance." In the novel he also wrote "Without ambition, without desire, the beauty of the world pared in thought his unresting mind." These two sentences describe exactly the moods of Kavanagh in 'Canal Bank Walk' and 'Lines Written..." Here the environment is glorified in a pantheistic manner. Kavanagh uses hyperbole and many neologisms in an attempt to demonstrate the magnificence of nature as experimented by the innocent mind of a child or of the poet reformed to the state of grace. The opposing attitudes expressed by Kavanagh to the environments of Monaghan and Dublin reflect more on his state of mind than on the environments themselves. In 1963 he did recognise the beauty of the Monaghan countryside-:

"Thirty-years before, Shank Duff's water-fill could of done the trick for me, but I was too thick to realise it"

Home : Advent : Canal Bank Walk : Inniskeen Road : July Evening : Stoney Grey Soil