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Great Hunger, The

The Great Hunger

poem irish maguire patrick

a long poem by Patrick Kavanagh, published in 1942. In fourteen parts, the poem is noted for its radical innovations in the treatment of rural material. The work exhibits great flexibility of style and form in sustaining its critique of the social and religious orthodoxy within which its chief protagonist, the peasant farmer Patrick Maguire, is confined. The intellectual, spiritual, imaginative, and sexual dimensions of his experience are charted with a harshly unsentimental but ultimately compassionate realism rooted in Kavanagh's personal knowledge of the circumstances of the small farmer. The poem modulates between lyrical, documentary, satirical, and dramatic idioms in achieving its concentrated presentation of Maguire's essentially static existence over several decades. Much of it implicitly repudiates the distortions of actuality perpetrated by the literature of the Irish Revival; as Augustine Martin has written with reference to The Great Hunger, ‘Kavanagh's most striking achievement in Irish poetry was to break the grip … of myth’. The poem's breach with the anodyne conventions of the modern pastoral drew it to the attention of the censor for its accounts of Maguire's sexual privations. In establishing a range of new registers for articulating the realities of rural life the work exemplified the potential of such subject matter for many succeeding Irish and British poets. It is widely regarded as one of the most successful long poems in English of the twentieth century.

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