Wild flowers in the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh

The famous English poet, Alexander Pope said poetry was that:

“ which oft is thought but ne’er so well expressed”.


Kavanagh… reckoned by many to be the greatest ever Irish poet…frequently took as his subject the wild flowers and weeds of the countryside.

He saw the face of God in the most primitive flower or weed.



And sometimes I am sorry when the grass

Is growing over the stones in quiet hollows

And the cocksfoot leans across the rutted cart-pass

That I am not the voice of country fellows…..


In an excerpt from The Great Hunger….he mentions


Health and wealth and love he too dreamed of in May

As he sat on the railway slope and watched the children of the place

Picking up a primrose here and a daisy there-

They were picking up life’s truth singly. But he dreamt of the

Absolute envased bouquet-


Again in Primrose he mentions….


Upon a bank I sat, a child made seer

Of one small primrose flowering in my mind.

Better than wealth it is, I said, to find

One small page of Truth’s manuscript made clear.




In “The One “he again refers to the simple wild flowers…..


Green, blue, yellow and red-

God is down in the swamps and marshes,

Sensational as April and almost incredible

the flowering of our catharsis.

A humble scene in a backward place

Where no one important ever looked;

The raving flowers looked up in the face

Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked

The profoundest of mortals. A primrose, a violet,

A violent wild iris


Kavanagh could take something as common as a snowdrop and raise it up beyond what most folk observed…..

as in …


… We have thrown into the dust- bin the clay-minted wages

Of, knowledge and the conscious hour …

And Christ comes with a January flower.

Snow Drop

Snow Drop

Patrick Kavanagh’s poem ‘Bluebells for Love‘ was published in The Bell magazine, June 1945. It was inspired by a walk he took with his great love  Hilda Moriarty in the wooded demense of Lord Dunsany’s estate in Co. Meath some weeks before.


Bluebells for love.

There will be bluebells growing under the big trees

And you will be there and I will be there in May;…….

We will have other loves – or so they’ll think;

The primroses or the ferns or the briars,

Or even the rusty paling wires,

Or the violets on the sunless sorrel bank.

Only as an aside the bluebells in the plantation

Will mean a thing to our dark contemplation.


Then again we see Kavanagh in “Spraying the Potatoes” select for honorable mention…

“And over that potato-field

A lazy veil of woven sun.

Dandelions growing on headlands, showing

Their unloved hearts to everyone”


In “Prelude” Kavanagh gives unique mention to weeds in his admonition…

“and love again the weeds that grew

Somewhere specially for you”


The common colt’s foot was mentioned by Kavanagh as one of his everyday flowers.

by Vincent Coyle, July 2020