Soaking in Nature

The last few days have been all about being with nature for me and I have spent hours just watching birds, waves, flowers, trees …

The Nesting Swans

I’m told by a watching farmer that the cygnets are due this coming Thursday so it’s all very exciting.

The experience of being out and about in lovely natural places made me think very much of the following poem:

THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS

-Wendell Berry-

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

The Heron

Brendan Kennelly

Tomorrow (April 17) marks the 85th birthday of treasured Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, and I can’t let the occasion go by without remembering his wonderful smile as we passed each other on a regular basis during my years at Trinity College, Dublin. He was always a joy to encounter and his poetry is always a joy to read:

Begin

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

— From The Essential Brendan Kennelly

W.B. Yeats

Today’s date, January 28th, always makes me think of W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), who is among my very favourite poets. He died on this day in 1939 having left a wonderful legacy of poetry.

Here is one of his most famous:

Should you be interested in learning about the life and works of arguably Ireland’s most famous poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, here is a link to an online exhibition about him from the National Library of Ireland:

YEATS: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats (nli.ie)

Leaning into Seamus Heaney

There are times when I need to hear the voice of Seamus Heaney. I am one of the lucky ones who got to go to one of his poetry readings back in 2009 and it will remain a highlight of my life forever.

Here he is with those twinkly eyes that I loved so much and his magnificent Northern Irish accent. I hope you enjoy this treasure even half as much as I do:

Presidential Poetry

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is a sociologist and a poet as well as a former politician. He is greatly loved in this country and we are immensely proud of him.

A while back, I was chatting to a friend and Michael D. came up in conversation. He told me of a time when he and a friend were students and hitching around Co. Galway. A car pulled up and it turned out that it was Michael D. out for a Sunday drive to take in the delights of Co. Galway. He chatted away to the lads, insisted on standing them lunch and showing them some of the more hidden gems of the countryside which he was so familiar with. Later he dropped them back at the station to catch their train to Dublin. It was an afternoon that my friend remembered as being fun, educational and and one of the reasons why he had absolutely no hesitation in voting for Michael D. for President when the time came. He is now in his second term.

Recently, our President wrote a poem to inspire the people of Ireland and beyond. Here it is and I hope you like it as much as I do:

Take Care

In the journey to the light,
the dark moments
should not threaten.
Belief
requires
that you hold steady.
Bend, if you will,
with the wind.
The tree is your teacher,
roots at once
more firm
from experience
in the soil
made fragile.

Your gentle dew will come
and a stirring
of power
to go on
towards the space
of sharing.

In the misery of the I,
in rage,
it is easy to cry out
against all others
but to weaken
is to die
in the misery of knowing
the journey abandoned
towards the sharing
of all human hope
and cries
is the loss
of all we know
of the divine
reclaimed
for our shared
humanity.
Hold firm.
Take care.
Come home
together.

-Michael D. Higgins-

Showing White

Ireland’s Covid cases have skyrocketed in the last few days and we are headed for a heavy lockdown – due to be announced in a few minutes.

The world feels shaky and fragile in so many ways but today I glimpsed hope under the bare Hydrangea by our garden gate. A clump of darling snowdrops smiled up at me with their fresh green leaves and tiny buds showing white. If ever there was a brave, resilient flower, the snowdrop has to be the winner. Just seeing this beauty emerging from the sodden ground made everything seem so much brighter and it was as if hope had come to rescue a bad situation. Nature has such a precious heart.

Hope

SNOWDROPS

Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

Louise Gluck

Tense

I was rummaging around in a few boxes today and came across a notebook from eight years ago. I was surprised to find a poem in it that I can’t remember writing. Here it is:

TENSE
Live in the past
Isn't that what old men do?
And old women leaning 
backwards as youth moves on?

The past is certain.
It has happened either
within or beyond our
dreams, control, constraints.

We can visit the past
like an old sloppy jumper
and wrap ourselves in
its fading colours and familiarity.

The past links our present
with tugging arms, pulling 
in all directions ~ fleeting
smiles, sodden tears, banalities

that ebb and flow soaking
our memories, watering our 
imaginations, flooding it with
lessons, regrets, voices.

And where is the future?
Can we live in a land
of hope or is this a 
tapestry yet to be woven?

Tenses are just that-
tense - passive, active,
imperfect, pluperfect.
I was, I am, I will be,

or maybe, I didn't when  
I should have; I might 
have but I stood in 
the moment for too long.

I'm  in the moment now
gazing at the moon and stars.
This is my present and where
I want to be; but am I

suspended here as the 
world drives on ~ not 
in a white Volkswagon Beetle

but in a tiny stream 
drifting down from the 
mountains to meet the
ever waiting sea.

Jean Tubridy


Love Poetry

I have a thing about love poems and spend quite a bit of time perusing collections in the hope of finding even more gems than I have already encountered.

E.E. Cummings is one of my all time favourite poets and I delight in the way he plays around with grammatical conventions. This poem caught my eye today and really lifted my heart. I wondered how a conventional English teacher would react if a pupil submitted a poem like this on a Monday morning as an an assignment on the topic of love.

[love is more thicker than forget] 

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

E.E. Cummings

Ireland: Lockdown 2, Day 1

Ireland began a new country-wide Level 5 lockdown for 6 weeks at midnight as Covid cases have been spiralling upwards.

The sun is blazing outside and thankfully we can exercise within 5km of home.

It’s desperately tough on many people and my thoughts are very much with those who are feeling bereft, anxious, lonely and vulnerable.

Right now, I feel like one of the lucky ones but know there will be moments of darkness lurking in the weeks ahead.

I feel that nature and the arts are going to be vital and was thrilled when a parcel of books arrived in the post yesterday from my big brother who knows way better than most how to keep me buoyant.

So, I leave you with a few lines from Sheenagh Pugh’s poem, ‘Sometimes’:

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.

Derek Mahon ~ A Beloved Poet

Derek Mahon, who has been one of my favourite poets over the years died this week, aged 78. He was born in Belfast and spent time at my alma mater, Trinity College, Dublin.

His poetry has depth and beauty as well as hope. This is among his most well-known. I hope you enjoy it:

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems