In his essay on Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Kennelly writes: 'A poet's critical judgements are always, at bottom, necessary justifications of his own most dearly held aesthetic.' This selection of his critical writing is as illuminating in what it says about his own ideas and methods as it is about the writers whose work he discusses.
The book contains his essays on the major Irish writers of the 20th century: W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, Louis MacNeice, Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke, Frank O'Connor, Flann O'Brien and Liam O'Flaherty. It brings together his writings on Derek Mahon, Joseph Plunkett and George Moore. Taken together they represent his view that literature should be lucidly expressed, rooted in the real world, and true to the writer's experience, and to the world's sufferings and joy.
Kennelly believes that 'the light of poetry often finds its origins in the darkness of our natures', and shares Yeats's belief that poetry comes from exploring and struggling with the self.