Week 471: The Hospital, by Patrick Kavanagh

I do like it when poets surprise one with an unconventional choice of material and make it work. I enjoy poems about stars and flowers and lost love as much as anyone, but I do take my hat off to a man who can work in wash basins, snoring and lorries, not to mention rhyming suntrap and claptrap, and still produce a lyrical, perfectly serious poem with a compelling message.

The Hospital

A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row
Plain concrete, wash basins – an art lover’s woe,
Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored.
But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
The common and banal her heat can know.
The corridor led to a stairway and below
Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.
This is what love does to things: the Rialto Bridge,
The main gate that was bent by a heavy lorry,
The seat at the back of a shed that was a suntrap.
Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge;
For we must record love’s mystery without claptrap,
Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.

Patrick Kavanagh


11 thoughts on “Week 471: The Hospital, by Patrick Kavanagh

  1. Oh I love this! I discovered Patrick Kavanagh by chance, browsing the bookshop in a wet Irish town, many years ago. I had lost my mother not long before and fell in love with ‘In Memory of my Mother’, which I still quote each year on her anniversary – tomorrow, as it happens…

    • Yes, that’s another fine and moving poem. Kavanagh’s influence on Seamus Heaney is an interesting one, and considerable, of course. I liked Seamus’s account of his first meeting with the older poet. Can’t find the passage now or remember the exact words, but it went something like ‘So you’re that Heaney fellow, are you? Hmm. OK, you can buy me a drink’. Says Seamus: ‘I took that as acceptance’.

      • Oh, I didn’t know of that connection. Funnily enough, on a poetry challenge this week, I read Stern, by Heaney – an account of a conversation with Ted Hughes about his meeting with TS Eliot

      • Ah yes, I know that one, from the ‘District and Circle’ collection. There is also a poem by Robert Lowell about meeting T.S.Eliot – Lowell is not quite my kind of poet, but this one is rather entertaining – evidently Eliot talks the hind leg of a donkey, then turns to Lowell and says ‘Now you say something’. Lowell: ‘By then I had absolutely nothing to say…’

      • Ha ha, yes, we all know people like that! I shall look up Lowell.
        It was an interesting little challenge, resulting in a quick poem for a friend, which I ‘blogged’ on mimsy-smallstones.blogspot.com

      • Aarrggh – woke up in the middle of the night realising I had seriously misremembered this poem. Yes, it’s by Lowell about meeting Eliot, but within it it’s Eliot talking about meeting Ezra Pound, and it’s Pound who talks for two hours then says ‘You speak’ and Eliot who says ‘By then I had absolutely nothing to say’. To make amends here is the actual poem:


        Caught between two streams of traffic, in the gloom
        of Memorial Hall and Harvard’s war-dead…. And he:
        “Don’t you loathe to be compared with your relatives?
        I do. I’ve just found two of mine reviewed by Poe.
        He wiped the floor with them…and I was delighted.”
        Then on with warden’s pace across the Yard,
        talking of Pound, “It’s balls to say he only
        pretends to be Ezra….He’s better though. This year
        He no longer wants to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem.
        Yes, he’s better. ‘You speak,’ he said, when he’d talked two hours.
        By then I had absolutely nothing to say.”
        Ah Tom, one muse, one music, had one your luck.
        lost in the dark night of the brilliant talkers,
        humor and honor from the everlasting dross!

        Robert Lowell

    • Absolutely. A variant of the Petrarchan sonnet, though the rhyme scheme in the sestet is a bit unorthodox, CDECED. Not that I’m into the these labels much: whatever, it works!

  2. Here’s a note from the Penguin “Selected Poems”: “The Rialto Hospital in Dublin where Kavanagh was operated on for lung cancer in March 1955 has since been closed down. The poem was originally entitled ‘April 1956’.”

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