I seemed to spend a lot of time in the woods during my blogging break and every single time I went out there, I found that there was a robin waiting for me ~ perched on a branch overlooking the little wooden bridge and full of welcome.
Robins never fail to stop me in my tracks. I can’t just walk passed them and go about my business.
They take me to all sorts of places and this is just a tiny part of a long list:
#1.Emily Dickinson’s lines:
“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”
― Emily Dickinson
#2. Robin Williams and, especially Dead Poets Society which speaks volumes about what education should really be about and the role that an inspirational and creative teacher can have.
#3. Robin Hood and long hours playing ‘Maid Marian’ to my big Bro’s Robin Hood when we were kids. There are many lessons to be learned from Robin Hood about equality and what it means.
#4. Reading poetry with my father in the last months of his life through the Spring of 2010 and especially this stanza from Thomas Hood’s, I Remember, I Remember:
I remember, I remember, The roses, red and white, The vi’lets, and the lily-cups, Those flowers made of light! The lilacs where the robin built, And where my brother set The laburnum on his birthday,— The tree is living yet!
Dad and I shared a love of robins and some of my happiest memories are watching him from the kitchen window while he was doing the garden but being distracted by a ‘pet’ robin who used to come and eat out of his hand or perch on his shoulder.
I’ve been doing a bit of reading about robins and it seems like they are quite solitary in their own way, especially when it comes to other birds, but just look at how sociable they are when it comes to humans. Maybe I see a touch of the robin in myself (inherited from Dad) ~ leaning into nature and feeling incredibly at peace with a tiny bird and not so much the ‘madding’ crowd.
January 29th will never mean anything else to me except your birthday. It’s far more significant than May 31st ~ the day you died in 2009.
It felt ‘your birthdayish’ from the minute I opened the front door early this morning to bring Stan for a walk. The birds were chirping in the Monkey Puzzle and the snowdrops in the garden seemed to have multiplied a hundred-fold since yesterday.
It was Men’s Final Day at the Australian Open so I planked myself down in front of the fire and the television from 8.30am until around 12.30 and savoured every single rally in a brilliant match between Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Federer won in five sets and would you believe Rod Laver presented him with the cup.
I was thinking that you’d have been listening to it on the Radio if you were here and got to thinking then how it was you who got me into tennis in the first place and how it was your father who got you into it. I wonder who introduced him to it?
The game was played in the best possible spirit and Kipling’s If kept coming to mind. Roger even said in his speech that he would have been quite happy to share the tournament with Rafa. You don’t hear that very often and needless to say it had me balling, probably like half the people watching. So much for Dad’s ‘killer instinct,’ for today anyway.
I can’t imagine what on earth it would have been like to grow up in a house where sport wasn’t on the agenda or dogs, gardening, your trifle, poetry, the sea, rules about ‘no sweets before lunch,’ diaries, crosswords, slogans, horses, everyday phonecalls when we never ran out of stuff to say … never, ever, ever …
Harry and I went out to the beach in the afternoon with the dogs and we drew a huge heart in the sand and wrote in it with an old stick – the kind you always managed to find when the situation demanded. We agreed that writing in the sand is much nicer than going to a grave. I’d never given the’no grave’ bit any thought when you were adamant about cremation. It’s not an issue, you’ll be glad to hear, because we always seem to go to places you loved ~ or should I say ‘beaches you loved’ on special days like your birthday. Must be that every day is special cos we’re at the beach every day!
I came across a poem the other day that I thought you’d like and then I wondered if you knew it as it was written by a woman who lived from 1918-2001, not too different from your 1921-2009. Anyway here it is:
At the ship’s bow. It was my eye that drew
the perfect circle of blue meeting blue.
No land was visible. There was no sail,
no cloud to show the mighty world in scale,
no sky and ocean, by my gaze defined,
were drawn within the compass of my mind
under a temperate sun. The engine’s sound
sank to a heartbeat. Stillness all around.
Only the perfect circle and the mast.
That moment knew no future and no past.
It’s strange not getting you a present or even picking your little bouquet of snowdrops. Remember that year we were in Tenerife for your birthday and I got you the post card with the flamenco dancer with the real skirt and wrote it in terrible Spanish from our phrase book?
Well, there’s a touch of that today. I have a photo of a robin that seems to have been waiting for today. I hope you like him. Imagine him singing Happy Birthday; much more melodious than me ~ that’s for sure.
George Gordon, Lord Byron was born on this day ~ January 22, 1788 ~ and he has been very much on my mind since early morning.
He was a poet who was much loved by my late mother who often quoted lines from his work. She had been introduced to him early in her life and it always gives me great pleasure to read an English composition which she wrote in 1934, when she was 13, comparing his life with that of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here is a short extract:
Both were wonderful poets, both hated tyranny and wrote of freedom. But with such a difference! A comparison of portraits emphasises it more even that a comparison of poems. Shelley, mournful, longing for a better world, with a melancholy face and a grave outlook on life. Byron, handsome, extravagant, impulsive, thoughtless and dissipated. Of the two, I infinitely prefer Byron, both his poems and his portrait, even taking his faults into consideration.
I often wonder how many portraits of Byron Mother ever got to see and which ones.
I’ve no doubt that she had probably read all his poetry but these are the lines that she tended to quote the most:
There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: (George Gordon, Lord Byron 1788-1824)
The first sighting of daffodils each year makes my heart sing and evokes the fondest thoughts of my late mother and father, both of whom adored the flowers, and the poems associated with them.
Well, today was the day of days. I was driving from Passage East into Waterford City and there on a bank on the side of the road the gleam of yellow had me enthralled, with all thoughts of the political crisis in Northern Ireland, Brexit and the coming of Donald Trump disappearing from my cluttered mind.
I’m not sure if anyone can see daffodils without finding themselves quoting line after line of William Wordsworth’s The Daffodils. I certainly can’t as it is a poem that has embroidered my heart since I was a tot and the yellow threads grow deeper each year:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
I’m a poetry person, as you probably realise by now, but I was a little dubious about even borrowing my book for this week from the library as I had a pre-conceived idea that it might be all religious and just not my cup of tea.
Here it is and the title was what put me off most:
I’ve been dabbling in it all week and have loved the style in which it is written ~ with chapters about the intricacies of ‘marriage’ interwoven with reasons for the choice of the twenty one poems.
I love being introduced to poems I’ve never read before and while I’d met many of the included poets on other occasions, almost all the poems were new to me. And it wasn’t all holy, holy. In fact, it was more a collection of love poems than ones that were specifically about marriage.
If you are into poems about relationships, this book will open doors to places in your heart that you never knew how to even acknowledge before.
It’s written in a very accessible way and Roger Housden has a series of ‘twenty poems’ books. After reading this one, I simply have to get my paws on some of the others.
And let me say that this little effort at getting back to reading has been one of the better things I’ve done in a while. I think I’m getting hooked again and now have a whole stack of books lined up like back in the day.
I’m still resisting moving from real books with proper pages to turn to a Kindle. Maybe I’m missing something but I think I’d miss the feel of books too much if I went all hi-tech. What do you reckon?
Among the many pleasures of driving to Kilfarrasy Beach, which is about 5 miles from Tramore, is a field which is the grazing place of some beautiful horses. When others are down at the beach at sunset, I often find myself stopping to watch the horses in silhouette.
Yesterday, I simply had to stop when I saw this magnificent creature looking so peaceful:
So many thoughts came flooding into my mind as I stood at the gate and watched him but none more than a saying that my late mother used to quote when she thought that any of us were over-doing things:
“Remember the horses in the French Revolution. They had to work for ten days without a rest and they all dropped dead.”
She always highlighted the power of rest and saw it as being essential to being able to function to the best of one’s ability. Thus, she had no qualms about having a rest in bed every afternoon for an hour or so. She’d read her book, maybe have a little snooze and then get up ready to take on the world. She had a peace about her and wasn’t a person who rushed around. She was just as busy as anyone else but always looked like she had all the time in the world. I think she took a certain pleasure in slowing the pace down when people were racing around like as if they were on a frantic life-saving mission and being ‘busy bees, ‘ as she would call them.
As life moves on, I’m coming to see that she was right about the importance of rest and I think she’d be smiling to hear me, of all people, quoting this poem that echoes from my childhood:
Down By the Salley Gardens
Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.
In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.
Standing by Ballyscanlon Lake the other evening in that moment between sunset and last light, the only sounds I could hear were my heart beating and lines of poetry.
W.B Yeats’, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, and John Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci were playing like a duet, bringing me more and more into that other world of hopes and dreams. The voice was my mother’s as she read these poems to me as a child and as she chimed in with me when I read them to her during her last months in 2009.
Poetry has a way of leaning into silence and drawing out the very essence of what it is to be alive.
One of my very favourite poems about the sounds of Ireland was written by John Montague (1929-2016) who died yesterday. The poem is called Windharp and it always comes to mind when I see the ‘harp’ in the rocks on Garrarus Beach where I spend half my life, either walking with Puppy Stan, swimming or just being me.
Here is the poem and I hope you enjoy it as much I do:
The sounds of Ireland,
that restless whispering
you never get away
from, seeping out of
low bushes and grass,
heatherbells and fern,
wrinkling bog pools,
scraping tree branches,
light hunting cloud,
sound hounding sight,
a hand ceaselessly
combing and stroking
the landscape, till
the valley gleams
like the pile upon
a mountain pony's coat.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I have quite a tendency to think in poetry ~something that I inherited from my mother.
Every time I see an eye-catching tree, I immediately go this poem by Joyce Kilmer, in spite of the religious connotations.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I saw that December 6th was Joyce Kilmer’s birthday and decided that after a lifetime of ‘being’ with this poem, the least I could do was to find out about the person behind the poem.
What emerged was quite a revelation to me. I had always assumed that Joyce Kilmer was a woman but it turns out that he was a man ~ Alfred Joyce Kilmer. He was born on December 6th, 1886 in New Jersey and his father, Frederick Kilmer, a physician and analytical chemist was the inventor of Johnson’s Baby Powder which has been part of so many lives, including mine and my son’s.
As well as being a poet, Alfred Joyce Kilmer was a journalist, editor and lecturer. He married Aline Murray (an Irish sounding name!) at the age of 22 in 1909 and they went on to have five children.
The poem Trees was written in February 1913 in the Kilmer Family home in New Jersey:
Kilmer enlisted in the US Army in April 1917, just a few days after America entered World War 1. Shortly before his deployment to Europe, his second child, Rose, died and just twelve days later Aline gave birth to their fifth child.
Kilmer was killed, aged just 31, at the Second Battle of the Marne in France on July 30th, 1918. He was buried in Picardy in France and a cenotaph was erected in his memory in New Jersey.
They say that poems should not need context to be read, but I’ve got to say that delving into Joyce Kilmer’s life will deepen my appreciation of his poem, Trees, every time it flashes into my mind from here on.
There was a big gathering in Dublin today to honour the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, who is now 80 years of age. Watching him on the RTE news, alongside the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, I was reminded of one of the very first posts I wrote here on my blog. That was back in 2011 and it was highlighting how Brendan Kennelly was a social bridge in my life.
I know that very, very few people read that post which was written from the heart about a man who had a huge impact on me, especially in my first year in Trinity College where he was Professor of English while I was a struggling Sociology student.
This is what I wrote back then:
Knowing that Brendan Kennelly celebrated his 75th birthday this week, I am prompted to recall my reaction to his collection ReservoirVoices (2009). Seeing the book on the shelf in the Book Centre in Waterford gave me a sense of comfort and it was almost like he was responding to a poem I had written about him a few months earlier. The poem, The Smile, related to my first term in Trinity College in 1975, when I was just seventeen and incredibly homesick. I had the good fortune to be able to attend a lunch time poetry reading of Brendan Kennelly’s early on that term and it was one of those bridges in my life that I have never forgotten. It was to lift my spirits and give me the hope I needed to press on and gradually come to thoroughly enjoy my College days.
That first day on Trinity’s cobbles
confirmed the hard-hitting prognosis
that my dreams of professional tennis
were shattered like my throbbing wrist.
Economic and Social Studies, what a prospect!
Brendan Kennelly dissolved my pain
for a fleeting hour, in a packed, steamy
room in Front Square. His voice,
his smile, his dimples inviting
me into his past, his solitude, his heart.
Economics was waiting to trip me up.
Tried to drill it in ‘til dawn
with mugs of black Bewley’s Java.
Saw familiar words on the dreaded paper;
momentary hope, head too heavy, faltered.
I scrambled through the September repeats;
got into my running with Sociology
and tennis. How many times did I
dash past Brendan Kennelly on the cobbles?
He’d smile; but why did I never slow down?
I must confess that I always hoped that I would inspire Brendan Kennelly to write a poem as I ran past him in my short tennis skirt towards the courts in Botany Bay. And if I am really honest, I hoped that I could be his muse like John Betjeman’s, Joan Hunter Dunn, and that he would immortalise me forever in lines like:
Love-thirty-love forty, oh weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy
With carefullest, carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak with your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.
I still regret that I didn’t seize a golden moment to speak to Brendan Kennelly which was presented to me in Ballybunion one hot Summer’s day in the mid-1980s. I was swimming in the sea at the main beach in the town when suddenly I caught sight of a familiar figure jogging along by the water’s edge. Yes, it was the man himself, in his native Co. Kerry, and there I was paralysed in the water just watching him run with the carelessness of Joan Hunter Dunn. I waited ‘til his back was turned and then sprinted up the beach to retrieve my clothes and disappear into the crowds.
No one was more delighted than I, when Toyota brought Brendan’s Kennelly’s voice back into my life with its massive advertising campaign and then, just a few years back, I heard a haunting programme in which he was speaking of his love of walking around Dublin just before dawn. Suddenly, I was catapulted back to the Dublin of my late teens and early twenties. Yes, I had walked those deserted streets on my way home to my bedsit in Ranelagh. I had known the peace he spoke of – a city with no traffic and the sound of birdsong at dawn. I also knew the comfort and coffee aroma of Bewley’s in Westmoreland Street, at breakfast time, with Brendan Kennelly sitting within my sights and reading with such concentration that I couldn’t possibly disturb him.
Plunging into Reservoir Voices, I was stunned to find that it was inspired by an Autumn sojourn in America where he experienced a period of intense loneliness which he tried to cope with by contemplating a reservoir near Boston College. The very idea of Brendan Kennelly ‘sitting alone … feeling abject emptiness’ stretched my emotions to their absolute limits. How could this be possible? Here was the man who had dissolved my angst in a mere hour and who I had assumed to be beyond the hand of darkness and dislocation readily admitting to his experience of it over a period of weeks. He makes the point that sometimes dark loneliness can lead to light. If I had happened to come upon him sitting alone at that reservoir, I hope I would have had the nerve to tell him how his presence was once that crucial light in my young life.