There are probably few in my audience who have not already met this beautiful poem of unrequited love by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, either in its original form as a poem first published in 1954 under the title ‘Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away’, or else (with slightly altered wording) as a song first made popular by Luke Kelly of the Dubliners, set to a traditional Irish air ‘The Dawning of the Day’, and subsequently covered by scores of folk artists. The poem was written for a young medical student Hilda Moriarty, but Kavanagh was 40 at the time as against her 22, and evidently the relationship foundered, or perhaps never really got going, because of that gap.
I have sometimes wondered if in line 12 Kavanagh really meant to capitalise May – when I first heard it, as a song, I took it as ‘clouds over fields of may’ i.e. fields of hawthorn blossom, which seemed to make sense as contrasting dark hair and white skin. But all versions seem to agree on the capitalisation.
On Raglan Road
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that 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 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.