Raglan Road

The last line of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem ‘On Raglan Road’ is

When the angel woos the clay he’ll lose his wings at the dawn of day.

A curious image: an angel losing his wings as punishment for, or at least as a result of, material attachment.

The poem was written in 1946, the year the film It’s a Wonderful Life came out. In the film, George Bailey (James Stewart) is saved from suicide by an angel called Clarence who needs to do a good deed in order to earn his wings.

The idea of an angel earning his wings is presented as a piece of lore, but how old was the tradition? In the eighth century BC, angels simply had wings—six each, in the year that King Uzziah died: with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly (Isaiah 6).

The honorific awarding of wings began in the US armed forces during the First World War: winged aviator badges were issued to Air Force RFC wingspilots and Army and Navy aviators. In Britain the Royal Flying Corps, which preceded the RAF, also had winged badges at least as early as 1912, and pilots still graduate by being ‘given their wings’.

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One Response to “Raglan Road”

  1. recumbentman Says:

    Update: although ‘On Raglan Road’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ both date from 1946, Kavanagh cannot have been influenced by the film. He published the poem with the title ‘Dark-haired Miriam Ran Away’ in the Irish Press on the 3rd of October 1946, but the film was only premiered in New York the following December. Curiouser and curiouser.

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