‘Shancoduff’ by Patrick Kavanagh is a three stanza poem that is separated into two sets of five lines, and one set of six. There is no single pattern of rhyme in the poem but there are moments of half or slant rhyme. These are instances in which words only partially rhyme with one another, due to their similar vowel or consonant sounds.
One of the most prominent techniques within ‘Shancodoff” is consonance. It is the repetition of a consonant sound in one line, or multiple lines of verse. In this particular poem, the letter “l” appears frequently in the text. For example, in the first stanza alone there are the words “black,” “hills,” “Eternally,” “Lot’s,” “salt,” “chapel” and again, “hills”. The repetition of this letter occurs in all three stanzas though.
Kavanagh used repetition in other ways as well, such as with anaphora. This is the use and reuse of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, “My” in the first and second stanza.
Lastly, but still importantly, is alliteration. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “seen” and “sun” in the first line of the first stanza, and “hills” and “happy” in the fourth. These two words appear together again in the third line of the third stanza.
You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Shancoduff
The poem begins with the speaker describing the lands he owns. His land includes “black hills,” described in this way because they’ve “never seen the sun rising”. They always “look north towards Armagh” and away from the sun. The speaker personifies the hills on his land by speaking about how “Incurious” they are.
He goes on to speak about how they “hoard the bright shillings of March”. They hold on to little bits of snow and ice for as long as they can. The speaker also compares his land to the Alps, expressing his belief that they are of equal importance. He knows that others look at his land and think poorly of him, or instead think that he must be very poor, and pity him. That might disappoint him that they can’t see the value in his land, but it doesn’t change how he personally feels.
Analysis of Shancoduff
In the first stanza of ‘Shancoduff’ the speaker begins by describing the lands he owns. Through the word “My” a reader immediately becomes aware that he cares about this place and that it belongs to him. His land includes “black hills,” described in this way because they’ve “never seen the sun rising”. They always “look north towards Armagh”.
The speaker personifies the hills on his land by speaking about how “Incurious” they are, unlike “Lot’s wife,” whose story is in the Bible, his hills do not look back. They are not turned to a pillar of salt as she was. His hills do not need to turn around, they’re happy facing west and feeling the “dawn” as it “whitens Glassdrummond chapel”.
The phrase “My hills” is repeated for the third time in stanza two. Here, he speaks of how they “hoard the bright shillings of March.” They hold on to little bits of snow and ice for as long as they can, just as the speaker holds on to all the resources he can. The hills, the speaker adds, also remind him of the Alps. They are as important to the speaker as the Alps are as a mountain range. He goes on to refer to “the Matterhorn” in Switzerland and Italy, and how it is as if he has climbed it, with his “sheaf” or bundle of hay “for three perishing calves”.
The journey up a hill, with the hay, takes on the feeling of an epic adventure, or some kind of desperate, heroic attempt to help creatures in need. It is furthered by the comparison to the Matterhorn which is one of the highest summits in Europe. Specifically, the speaker is traveling to a “field under the Big Forth of Rocksavage”.
By mentioning “Big Forth of Rocksavage” the speaker is again drawing a direct comparison between his own land and the Alps. He loves where he lives, and sees it as being more important than anywhere else in the world. But, in reality, it is likely that the “Big Forth” is not as grand as he makes it out to be.
In the third stanza of ‘Shancoduff’ the speaker further describes his land, which is for the first time called Shancoduff. He imagines the words of “cattle-drovers in Featherna Bush” as they look up at his meagre, dark land. They would ask one another who owns “them hungry hills,” referencing their infertile, gloomy nature. The other farmers would figure that the “water-hen and snipe” would have “forsaken” these places as there would be nothing there for them to eat, and no where to nest.
There is something of an answer in the next line, giving credence to the speculation that the speaker is Kavanagh himself. They wonder, if maybe it is a poet. If so, then “he must be poor”. The speaker tells the reader that he hears these words, at least in his mind, and asks, “is my heart not badly shaken?” The answer to that question in the end is no, he loves his land, and is dedicated to taking care of it the best he can.