The Sunday Poem: Advent by Patrick Kavanagh
As always, I have a little poetic offering for Sunday morning, poetry perhaps being my personal form of prayer. As it is officially December, I have chosen Patrick Kavanagh’s poem Advent. A poem that brings me right back to my school days.
Kavanagh was a poet whose sense of place defined his work and whose writing was characterised by his love-hate relationship with his rural, Catholic upbringing, in the small village of Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan. His genius lies in his ability to see the epic in the everyday, the magic in the mundane. This unique skill has rendered him one of Ireland’s most respected and revered poets.
The double sonnet Advent contains one of my favourite lines from all literature. The phrase “through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder”, possibly has even more relevance today than ever before. Is it possible that more we know or think we know, the less of our innocence and sense of wonder and awe we retain? The world is at our fingertips now, gratification is rarely delayed, we see little value in denying ourselves the things we want. This is, of course, not entirely a bad thing, but if “we have tested and tasted too much”, too soon, is it not harder to find things that take our breath away?
Kavanagh, I think, is encouraging us to simplify things a little. We do not need more experiences, more possessions, even more knowledge. In fact we need less, a little self-denial to reawaken the senses perhaps. A mini-lent before the excesses of Christmas.
I think his message is simple; recalibrate the way we view the world around us, simplify our lives, look at little harder to see the wonder and newness in the ordinary world around us. Maybe we should all take Kavanagh’s advice this week and look for the mystical and the magical tucked away within the bits and pieces of the everyday.
Advent by Patrick Kavanagh
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.
O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and please
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.