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Written from the viewpoint of a single peasant against the historical background of famine and emotional despair, the poem is often held by critics to be Kavanagh’s finest work.It set out to counter the saccharine romanticising of the Irish literary establishment in its view of peasant life.Richard Murphy in the The New York Times Book Review described it as “a great work” and Robin Skelton in Poetry praised it as “a vision of mythic intensity”.
Russell at first rejected Kavanagh’s work but encouraged him to keep submitting, and he went on to publish verse by Kavanagh in 19.
This inspired the farmer to leave home and attempt to further his aspirations.
To him such men were dandies, journalists, and civil servants playing at art.
His disgust was deepened by the fact that he was treated as the literate peasant he had been rather than as the highly talented poet he believed he was in the process of becoming”.
He is known for his accounts of Irish life through reference to the everyday and commonplace.
Patrick Kavanagh was born in rural Inniskeen, County Monaghan, in 1904, the fourth of the ten children of Bridget Quinn.
In 1942 he published his long poem The Great Hunger, which describes the privations and hardship of the rural life he knew well.
Although it was rumoured at the time that all copies of Horizon, the literary magazine in which it was published, were seized by the Garda Síochána, Kavanagh denied that this had occurred, saying later that he was visited by two Gardaí at his home (probably in connection with an investigation of Horizon under the Special Powers Act).
Kavanagh’s personality became progressively quixotic as his drinking increased over the years and his health deteriorated.
Eventually, a dishevelled figure, he moved among the bars of Dublin, drinking whiskey, and displaying his predilection for turning on benefactors and friends.