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Sunday 19 May 2019

Kinsella's wife reveals her hurt at the poet's words of love

ANDREA BYRNE

THE wife and muse of Thomas Kinsella, one of Ireland's most successful contemporary poets, has admitted that she was upset by the revelations of some of his early poetry.

"I was terribly hurt at Wormwood . . . I was a private person and I did not want to be exposed," says Thomas Kinsella's wife Eleanor.

'What clamped us together?' Kinsella wrote in Remembering Old Wars.

'When each night fell we lay down/In the smell of decay and slept, our bodies leaking,/Limp as the dead, breathing that smell all night.'

"I didn't realise the capacity of the mind I had married," says the poet's wife of 50 years. "That's really the truth, and I was a bad reader, and it didn't help the marriage."

"Every love affair has a kind of downturn," says the poet in an RTE documentary, which offers a rare insight into his life and career.

Before Kinsella devoted his life to poetry, he worked as a civil servant in the Department of Finance under the now famous TK Whitaker.

"He was a very capable civil servant -- 'my private secretary the poet', I must say I basked in it," says Whitaker. "I wasn't directly written about, he focused on more notable people than me. He had some remarkable things to say about Charles J Haughey."

Explaining his use of Haughey as creative fuel, Kinsella says, "it seems to me that he was the necessary component in translating the theory of economic expansion into practical politics and turning it into actual action".

In his poem, Nightwalker, he commemorated the man who was known as 'The Boss'.

'It is himself in silk hat, accoutred in stern jodhpurs / The son husband coming in / His power climbs the dark / to his mansion in the sky, / to take his place in the influential circle / mounting to glory on his big white harse.'

Now as the 80-year-old Kinsella contemplates death, he says: "I think it was Yeats who said, 'Best of all is never to have been born. Second best is to die soon', I've failed on the first but I am hoping to succeed on the second."

As for what awaits him upon death, he remains equally morbid. "I believe now, with a certain nervousness, that you simply go back from where you came from -- which is nowhere. We are phenomena, we are biological freaks, we simply come to the end of a given ordeal and go back to nothing," he says.

For many, Kinsella's poetry is synonymous with junior and leaving cert English. He's also renowned for his translation of the epic An Táin and for An Duanaire -- Poems of the Dispossessed, with the late Sean O Tuama.

"Where Joyce is the quintessential Dublin novelist, Kinsella is the quintess- ential Dublin poet," remarks Dennis O'Driscoll, critic and poet.

"It was at the Leaving Cert stage that it became significant to me," remembers his daughter Sara. "There he was at the end of the course, the only one [poet] alive. All the teachers that taught English at the various schools that I attended, you'd become a bit of a minor celebrity and you'd be asked would he come in and would he talk."

'Thomas Kinsella Personal Places' will be shown on RTE1 on Tuesday at 10.10pm.

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