Brendan Kennelly: A Man I Knew

(i.m. Patrick Kavanagh)
‘I want no easy grave,’ he said to me, 
‘where those who hated me can come and stare, 
slip down upon a servile knee, 
muttering their phoney public prayer. 
In the wilds of Norfolk I’d like to lie, 
no commemorative stone, no sheltering trees, 
far from the hypocrite’s tongue and eye, 
safe from the praise of my enemies.’
A man I knew who seemed to me 
the epitome of chivalry 
was constantly misunderstood. 
The heart’s dialogue with God 
was his life’s theme and he 
explored its depths assiduously 
and without rest. Therefore he spat 
on every shoddy value that 
blinded men to their true destiny – 
the evil power of mediocrity, 
the safety of the barren pose, 
all that distorted natural grace. 
Which is to say, almost everything.
Once he asked a girl to sing 
a medieval ballad. As her voice rang out, 
she was affronted by some interfering lout.
This man I knew spat in his face
and wished him to the floor of hell. 
I thought then, and still think it well 
that man should wear the spittle of disgrace 
for violating certain laws.
Now I recall my friend because 
he lived according to his code 
and in his way was true to God. 
Courage he had and was content to be 
himself, whatever came his way. 
There is no other chivalry.
Brendan Kennelly was born in 1936 in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry. He was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1973 to 2004. He has published over 20 books of poetry, including an epic poem, The Book of Judas (Bloodaxe 1991), which topped the Irish bestseller list.


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