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Patrick Kavanagh was an Irish poet who also wrote fiction, autobiography, and numerous articles for Irish periodicals. Many critics and Irish literary figures have called him the nation's best poet since William Butler Yeats, and one of his long poems, ‘The Great Hunger’, is widely regarded as a work of major importance. Even Kavanagh's admirers, however, find his writing difficult to characterize. "There is a sense in which Kavanagh may be said to defy criticism," Anthony Cronin wrote in Heritage Now. "You can look in vain in his poems for elaborate metaphors, correspondences, symbols and symbolic extensions of meaning . . . neither is there in his poems really anything that turns out to be a coherent life-view in the philosophical sense."
Kavanagh began his writing career in the last years of the Irish Literary Renaissance, a cultural movement paralleling the rise of nationalism in Ireland that culminated in the country's independence from Great Britain shortly after World War I. The movement freed writers from the burden of conforming to the styles of English literature and allowed them to concentrate on the Irish subjects with which they were familiar. Many participants in the movement also gave it an ideological mission—to secure Irish cultural independence from Great Britain by glorifying those subjects perceived as spiritually uplifting and uniquely Irish, such as the way of life of the nation's impoverished peasants. Because of their isolation, such country people were thought to have retained a more authentic Irish culture. Often, the writers who praised them were prosperous city-dwellers.
Kavanagh grew up in the peasant life that many who took part in the Irish Renaissance had only encountered as a subject for literature. Son of a shoemaker who owned a small farm, Kavanagh was born in a ...