‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin’ by Patrick Kavanagh is a fourteen-line sonnet that is contained within one block of text. The lines mostly conform to a pattern of ABABCDCDEFGEFG. This rhyme scheme does not belong to one particular form of a sonnet, but there are elements of the text which are found in both Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets.
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Summary of Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin
The poem begins with the speaker asking the reader, someone he refers to generally as “Brother” to commemorate him by the water of the Grand Canal. He wants to be present alongside the water, especially in the summer when everything is so green. There are a few elements of the scene which speak/spoke to him most. These include the rushing waters around the lock, the general silence, and the poetic nature of the place.
In the final lines, he makes clear that he wants to have a bench or seat placed by the canal. It needs to be simple, he doesn’t desire anything grand as a hero would.
You can read the full poem here.
Theme of Commemoration
Upon a close reading of this piece, one will notice immediately that Kavanagh makes use of repetition. The word “commemorate” appears three lines in the text and becomes the major theme of the last six lines. Commemoration, or the remembrance of someone deceased, is requested by the speaker. He is looking for a very particular memorial. He does not want anything outrageous or over the top. A “canal bank seat” will be enough for him, so others can sit where he sat and enjoy the Grand Canal that meant so much to him.
Before beginning the text a reader should also take note of the context in which ‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin’ was written. The poet, Patrick Kavanagh wrote more than one piece focused on the Grand Canal in Dublin. Another example is ‘Canal Bank Walk.’ It was an important place of respite for the poet, especially in his later life. It is clear through context clues that Kavanagh was considering his own death and the kind of memorial he would like to his life.
Through the speaker’s reverential tone and the peaceful mood set by the poet, it is clear that Kavanagh had a vast love for this place. As another point of interest, a bench does now stand alongside the Grand Canal. It also features a statue of the poet.
The particular memorial which features in this poem is for another though, “Mrs. Dermot O’Brien.” There is no additional information as to who this woman was, or what connection she had to Kavanagh. There is only the short line, stating that the text, and the bench, were “Erected to the Memory of Mrs Dermot O’Brien” that directly follows the title.
Rhyme Scheme and Meter
The first half of the rhyme scheme, that which belongs in the first six lines, is the same pattern found in the first is lines of a Shakespearean sonnet. That being said, a few of the rhymes are not perfect. For example, lines five and seven are only half or slant rhymes. They correspond due to a similar “s” sound but that is it. This also occurs in the last six lines. Most prominently between lines 10 and 13. These should rhyme but again only have the “s” sound in common.
In regards to the meter, sonnets most commonly make use of iambic pentameter. Kavanagh made a different choice with ‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin.’ There is no particular pattern of rhythm, although most of the lines have somewhere between 10 and 12 syllables.
Analysis of Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin
O commemorate me where there is water,
Commemorate me thus beautifully
In the first lines of this piece the speaker begins by asking the listener, someone who is taking care of his wishes after death, to “commemorate [him] where there is water.” He knows where the best place would be, and goes on to describe it. But the fact that he started with the vague request of “water” is important. The water that he came to love, the “Canal water,” gave him a larger more expansive love for bodies of water in general.
He goes on to refer to the canal, specifically the Grand Canal in Dublin (as noted in the title). The speaker uses the words “stilly” and “Greeny” to describe the place. These are light-hearted, love-filled words that show the care the speaker had for the area. He knew it well and has long-lasting memories of it in the “heart of summer.” It is clear that this is his ideal landscape.
If the listener, someone he address as “Brother” is about to commemorate him by the canal it will be beautiful. The fact that the word “Brother” is capitalized in line three gives the word a broader meaning. He is not referring to his own biological brother, but to a human brother, whoever ends up taking care of his memorial.
Where by a lock niagarously roars
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
In the next four lines of ‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin’ the speaker spends more time describing the canal. He is interested in having a memorial of some kind up where “a lock niagariously roars.” In this line, Kavanagh coins a new word, “niagariously.” This seems to mean, having the attributes of Niagara Falls. The lock, which is like a small dam that opens and closes for boats to pass, is as powerful (to the speaker) as Niagara Falls. That line really shows the esteem it holds in his mind.
He remembers this place as one where people “sit in the tremendous silence / Of mid-July.” This line adds an important piece of information to the setting. The area is usually a quiet one, even in the middle of July went there should be the largest number of people outside. The final line is a reference to Mount Parnassus in central Greece. It is commonly referred to as the home of poetry. The term “Parnassian” was also used as a designation for a group of French poets.
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
Tomb – just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.
In the last six lines of ‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin’ the speaker concludes his description of the Grand Canal and finalizes his request for a particular means of commemoration.
The poem transitions from the future to the present. Now, he states, a “swan goes by head low with many apologies.” This simple use of personification shows the amount that Kavanagh reads into the landscape, and again, the care he has for the area. He also mentions the way that light goes through the holes in the bridges. In another moment of personification, he refers to the bridges as having eyes.
The speaker is excited now. He exclaims over a barge that goes down the river. It is coming from Athy, a market town in south-west County Kildare, alongside the Grand Canal. It is at a bit of a distance from Dublin and therefore special enough to add to the mystical environment. Stories, products, people, and “mythologies” come from Athy, as well as other “far-flung towns.”
In the last two lines the speaker steps back from his descriptions to ask clearly that he be commemorated with a “canal-bank seat for the passer-by.” He doesn’t want something that makes him look like a courageous hero, rather he’d like to benefit those who come and rest where he used to.