Week 289: Spraying The Potatoes, by Patrick Kavanagh

Another poem by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh whose work I delight in for its quirky originality and its wonderful inclusiveness.

Spraying The Potatoes

The barrels of blue potato-spray
Stood on a headland of July
Beside an orchard wall where roses
Were young girls hanging from the sky.

The flocks of green potato-stalks
Were blossom spread for sudden flight,
The Kerr’s Pinks in a frivelled blue,
The Arran Banners wearing white.

And over that potato-field
A hazy veil of woven sun.
Dandelions growing on headlands, showing
Their unloved hearts to everyone.

And I was there with the knapsack sprayer
On the barrel’s edge poised. A wasp was floating
Dead on a sunken briar leaf
Over a copper-poisoned ocean.

The axle-roll of a rut-locked cart
Broke the burnt stick of noon in two.
An old man came through a cornfield
Remembering his youth and some Ruth he knew.

He turned my way. ‘God further the work.’
He echoed an ancient farming prayer.
I thanked him. He eyed the potato-drills.
He said: ‘You are bound to have good ones there.’

We talked and our talk was a theme of kings,
A theme for strings. He hunkered down
In the shade of the orchard wall. O roses
The old man dies in the young girl’s frown.

And poet lost to potato-fields,
Remembering the lime and copper smell
Of the spraying barrels he is not lost
Or till blossomed stalks cannot weave a spell.

Patrick Kavanagh

2 thoughts on “Week 289: Spraying The Potatoes, by Patrick Kavanagh

  1. “headland” – strip of unploughed land at both ends of a ploughed field where the horses turned when ploughing. “copper-poisoned” – apparently the chemical being sprayed on the potato-plants is copper sulphate.

  2. From The Irish Times: “When Kavanagh made his poetic debut in this newspaper, circa 1940 [ 27th July 1940 ], it was with “Spraying the Potatoes”. The subject matter was duly lampooned on the letters page by a pseudonymous wag, who urged The Irish Times (“tireless champion of our peasantry”) to commission further such poems, and suggested “inflamed goat udders” and “warble-pocked shorthorn” as possible themes.”

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