In his essay on Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Kennelly writes: 'A poet's critical judgements are always, at bottom, necessary justification 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: Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, MacNeice, 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 present his view that literature should be lucidly expressed, rooted in the read 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.