‘Innocence’ by Patrick Kavanagh is a three-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. There are ten lines in the first stanza, four in the second, and six in the third. ‘Innocence’ is written in free verse. This means that there is not a structured pattern of rhyme or rhythm. This allows Kavanagh greater freedom in his syntax and places more importance on the images and content rather than their form.
After reading the poem, one should realize that the main focus, the farm, is actually an extended metaphor comparing the land to a female partner. This is accomplished through techniques such as allusion and personification. The last line of the first stanza is a great example of personification, “Although she was smiling at me with violets.” Kavanagh gives the farm human qualities in order to bring more emotion into the poem and help a reader better understand how the speaker feels throughout.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that there are those who have in the past made fun of the “one” he loves. This “one” is a patch of land. It is not particularly big, but it is special to the speaker. Others see the farm as too contained and separate from the rest of the world though. It is “innocent” and has made the speaker “innocent” as well. There were times that this thought bothered the speaker, but he always came back to the land in the end.
In the last two stanzas, the speaker admires the land he has and considers his own agelessness. His continual existence within this one spot has taken him beyond a mortal understanding of time. Now, he is without age or death. The only way he could die is if he left the land he loves.
You can read the full poem here.
The poetic techniques the poet makes use of are anaphora, alliteration, and enjambment. Anaphora is the use and reuse of a word or phrase at the beginning of lines that are close together or in succession. It can be seen most obviously in the last stanza in which “I” starts four of the six lines.
Enjambment is present throughout the text. In the first stanza, Kavanagh makes use of it between the second, third, and fourth lines. With this technique, a writer is able to slow down or speed up a reader’s progression through the text (depending on the words in those lines). In the case of the first stanza, the lines move slowly, in accordance with the content and the speaker’s tone. Kavanagh’s speaker is relaxed in his description of his relationship to the land. There is no rush as he moves through the landscape and the “little farm.”
Alliteration is another common technique that can be seen within ‘Innocence.’ A few examples exist in the first stanza, most obviously between words beginning with “h.” There is the connection between “hill” and “hung” in the second line, then between “horn” and “hedges” in the fourth line.
Analysis of Innocence
They laughed at one I loved-
The triangular hill that hung
Of the little farm and did not know the world.
But I knew that love’s doorway to life
In the first stanza of ‘Innocence’ the speaker begins by referring to an exterior group of people only known as “they.” This group, has some sort of social superiority over the speaker. They laughed at “one” the speaker loved. This “one” was not a person as much it was a place. Particularly,
The triangular hill that hung
Under the Big Forth.
The land that the speaker loves is easily identifiable. It is “triangular” in shape and hangs under “the Big Forth”. Just from these few introductory lines, it is clear that the speaker cares deeply about this place. This can be seen through his careful language and clear discomfort with the thought that anyone would not see what he sees.
In the next lines, he refers to “whitethorn hedges” which “they” say “bound,” or surround his farm. The hedges are seen as something bad, at least by “them”. They contain the farm, and keep it from knowing “the world”. This relates to the title of the poem, ‘Innocence’. Since the farm is innocent, the speaker is seen as innocent as well. He loves his small patch of isolated land and knows nothing beyond it— or at least that’s what “they” think.
Is the same doorway everywhere.
Although she was smiling at me with violets.
He goes on to tell the reader what it is he does know.
[…] That love’s doorway to life
Is the same doorway everywhere.
This line would work as a summary of the main theme of this piece, that one place is as good as any other. Where life exists, life is valuable. There is no hierarchy to the worth of experience. These lines work as an argument against the unknown “they” from the first lines as well.
There is a brief back-step for the speaker in the final two lines of the first stanza. It turns out that he wasn’t always so confident in his love. Although the land is beautiful and filled with “violets,” at one point he “flung her” away. This is also where the personification reaches its peak. The farm is as important to the speaker as a woman might be.
But now I am back in her briary arms
What age am I?
Luckily for the farm, the speaker quickly returned. He is now “back in her birary arms”. This relates to the “thorn” plant in the first stanza and is also an acceptance of the world he lives in. He learned how to be okay with not having a perfect life or love.
The next images are pastoral and peaceful. He imagines his farm and sees the “dew of an Indian Summer” it sits on “bleached potato-stalks.” The last line of this stanza takes the poem out of the physical world and into a more ephemeral one. This is accomplished when he asks how old he is.
I do not know what age I am,
I am no mortal age;
I cannot die
Unless I walk outside these whitethorn hedges.
It is in this final stanza that anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrases at the beginning of multiple lines, is the most obvious. Four of the six lines in this section of the poem begin with the word “I.”
In the first of the six lines, the speaker starts by answering the question posed in the final line of the second stanza. He says, “I do not know what age I am.” He is beyond age as humanity knows it, there is no “mortal” number one could give him that would make sense. This comes from his connection with the land. He is as innocent as the land is, untouched by the “cities” and “women.” This has kept him from growing jaded, old, or bitter.
The final two lines present the reader with a dramatic use of enjambment. Line five is short, made up of the phrase “I cannot die.” A reader is forced down to the final line to figure out the only way the speaker could die. That is, to “walk outside these whitethorn hedges.” Or, leave the land which has come to represent his entire identity and reason for living. This would jeopardize his precious innocence and he’d be subject to the troubles present in the rest of the world.