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

The Book Table on the Path

There’s a convent round the block  from our place and the nuns were kindly leaving books out on a table in the early days of ‘the lockdown’ for people to take.

I did my best to resist them lest they could by some chance pose dangers as virus carriers. Anyway, I looked from a distance and couldn’t resist taking a book of poetry which I put away for weeks before touching it again.

It is a real gem and here’s one of the poems that I found in it today. I hope you enjoy it.

When the heart

When the heart 
is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open

Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sting

Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean on the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring.

(Michael Leunig)

 

 

 

 

Robin Time

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.

Robin
Feathered Friend

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.

I’d love to hear where robins bring you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mother …

January 29th, 2017

Dear Mother,

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:

Peace
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.

(Amy Witting)

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.

robin

Lots of love,

Jean xxx

 

Poetry Prism

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.

375px-george_gordon_byron_6th_baron_byron_by_richard_westall_2
Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall

 

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Only Happens Once a Year

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.

D2
Mother with Daffodils Photo: Frank Tubridy

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.

daffodil-road
Daffodil Road

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:

The Daffodils

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.

(William Wordsworth)

bloom
Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Reading ~ Week 2

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:

twenty-poems

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?

 

 

 

She bid me take life easy …

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:

h
Peace

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.

(William Butler Yeats)

 

 

 

 

Reflective Silence

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.