“EPIC” by Patrick Kavanagh
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided : who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was most important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said : I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.
Ever since studying the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh for my Leaving Certificate a couple of years ago, “Epic” has become one of my favourite poems. This is a poem about poetry itself, in which Kavanagh tells us that art does not need grandiose inspiration – it can be created from the habitual and the mundane. His message is inspiring and motivational and “Epic” is a sonnet which also elucidates the sonnet’s self-consciousness as a form, as it praises the art of poetry and the importance of the parochial within fourteen lines.
Of course, the title lends itself to an expectation of grandeur, as one expects a lengthy poem, recanting the exploits of an ancient hero, but instead Kavanagh’s poem is somewhat of a ‘mock epic’. However, the seemingly trivial dispute between these two families is elevated to the status of the Trojan War, rather than reduced to an insignificant parochial squabble. The inclination to think of something which is played out on a global scale as being more important than the “march along these iron stones” of the families from Ballyrush and Gortin is the very thing which Kavanagh rejects in “Epic”. The wonder of the poem lays in the combination of Kavanagh’s colloquial language and the sophisticated idea that the potential for poetry is inherently present in even the smallest event.
My favourite line comes when Kavanagh says “Gods make their own importance”. His message is powerful and is one which resonates universally and that is that the local and the close to home are what’s really important in life. A “rood of rock” matters more than a whole continent if that “rood of rock” is all we know. Kavanagh uses the sonnet form to express how one has to fight for their own place in history and that anything, no matter how small; is a proper subject of poetry.