‘Inniskeen Road: July Evening’ by Patrick Kavanagh is a fourteen-line sonnet that is separated into one set of eight lines, or octave, and one set of six or sestet. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD EFEFGG. This is the traditional Shakespearean or English pattern. The meter is also consistent, sticking to iambic pentameter. This means that each line is made up of five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed.
Kavanagh also makes use of other conventions of traditional sonnets, such as the turn, or volta, between the two parts. Usually, these turns are recognizable through a change in the speaker or narrative perspective. They can also supply a reader with the answer to a question posed in the first section, or even change the meaning of the poem entirely. In the case of ‘Inniskeen Road: July Evening’ Kavanagh changes the narrative perspective of the speaker and provides some background details necessary to fully understand the first eight lines.
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Summary of Inniskeen Road: July Evening
The poem begins with the speaker stating that everyone around him is going to a party. It is taking place at a house down the road and he watches as the attendees’ cycle together. No one is alone, except for him. This is what he is used to though. He has lived his whole life as an outsider looking in on a world he is unable to interpret. Their signs, languages, and movements mean nothing to him. They are mysteries.
In the second stanza, he states that it is his role as “poet” that contributes to these feelings of otherness. He might pretend to love “contemplation” and solitude that are inherent to the artistic stereotype but that’s not really the case. He struggles over finding balance in his own world as “king and government and nation.” The poem concludes by stating that the poet is able to find some peace in nature amongst signs and symbols he understands.
You can read the full poem here.
Language and Theme
Kavanagh is known today for the colloquial approach he took to his writing. The lines are straight forward, written without pretense or a need to fill space with extraneous details. From the first few lines, the tone of the poem is also made quite clear. The speaker is describing one night in which everyone is going to a dance. These people communicate in a different language than the speaker does. This separates him from them, alienates him in a way that he seems to be used to.
The reasoning behind his alienation is presented in the second set of lines. It is quite likely, considering Kavanagh’s history with similar subjects, that he is the speaker. It is his role as “poet” and “writer” that separates him from the rest of society. He knows isolation very well, a theme that reveals itself to be one of the most prominent in the poem. He must find his kingdom in the “banks and stones and every blooming thing.” The speaker/poet has come to know the sights and sounds of nature as one might learn the gestures and moods of a close friend.
Analysis of Inniskeen Road: July Evening
The bicycles go by in twos and threes –
There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight,
That might turn out a man or woman, not
A footfall tapping secrecies of stone.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by describing the events of one particular night. It seems as though everyone is on the move. They are on their “bicycles,” going in groups of “twos and threes,” to “Billy Brennan’s barn.” Brennan is holding a dance that is drawing a large crowd. Everyone is attending the party.
It is interesting to note that already in this first line the speaker has set himself apart from others. He is a single person, and everyone attending the party is accompanied by at least one other. To further depict his feelings of otherness, he speaks on the communications styles of these dancers. There is “half-talk” and “the wink-and-elbow language.” These are things he doesn’t understand as he has never been a part of the conversations.
In the second set of four lines, he looks around him and notices that at “Half-past eight” there is no spot on the road where a “man or woman” is not “footfall tapping.” Even their dances are a mystery to him. He describes them as “secrecies in stone.” The traditions of his contemporaries are as clear to them as they are unclear to the speaker. These lines also hint at the speaker’s own longing for great participation in the worlds of the party-goers. Although he can’t fully understand how they interact, he knows he’d like to feel less alone. The second stanza expands on these emotions.
I have what every poet hates in spite
Of all the solemn talk of contemplation.
A road, a mile of kingdom. I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.
In the next six lines, the poem makes a turn, also known as a volta. The otherness felt by the speaker in the first stanza is explained and expanded on. He moves into the first person to describes his own personal situation and why his role as “poet” makes him different. He immediately dispenses with the notion that as a poet he inherently loves his position of “contemplation.” The speaker might “talk” about the necessity of “contemplation” but really he “hates” it.
The third line refers to Alexander Selkirk who was a Royal Navy Officer who spent over four years as a castaway in the South Pacific. He came to the attention of the public after being used as the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, the main character of the novel by the same name by Daniel Defoe.
Selkirk’s own philosophy seems true to the speaker now. He understands the “plight” of having to be “kind and government and nation.” The poet is in a similar situation. The speaker is forced to be all of these things for his own world. He feels as separate from civilization as Selkirk or Crusoe was. Rather than existing as a part of society, he is forced to make his own of the “banks and stones and every blooming thing.” Nature is where the speaker finds peace, it is the world in which he is able to dance as the attendees of Brennan’s party do.