Patrick Kavanagh's ‘Potentialities’

Kit Fryatt

in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199561247
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

Patrick Kavanagh's ‘Potentialities’

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)



Patrick Kavanagh wrote regular ‘Diary’ chapters for the Dublin literary periodical Envoy until it ceased publication in July 1951. He was the most likely candidate in his generation to succeed W. B. Yeats as far as unrivalled dominance of twentieth-century Irish poetry was concerned, and made repeated applications for the position by denying Yeats's greatness or his Irishness, or more usually, both. Kavanagh's ballad ‘If Ever You Go to Dublin Town’ uses ‘potentiality’ to suggest both scholarly fustian and squandered talent. He freed Irish poetry from the pieties of cultural nationalism and Yeatsian high-talk, but could not, except in a handful of poems, serve his own potentiality. It took posterity – in Ireland, famously represented by Paul Durcan and Seamus Heaney – to explore possibilities that this poet revealed but did not exploit.

Keywords: Patrick Kavanagh; Envoy; Irish poetry; Ireland; W. B. Yeats; potentiality; posterity; Paul Durcan; Seamus Heaney

Article.  7182 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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