Early morning in my precious Newtown Wood, just outside Tramore, brings signs of changing seasons. Just as people don’t move through life in a uniform way, trees and flowers have their own ways of adapting and moving on.
The beech tree is steadfastly holding on to her autumnal leaves until the new growth is ready for show:
For now, the sun can see through the bare tree and cast pensive shadows where soon the there will be a carpet of bluebells:
Looking skyward, it’s clear that a canopy of green leaves will soon draw the blinds over the blue sky:
Down near the little stream, the celandines gleam with pride, promise and gentle purpose as they take us by the hand to celebrate diversity, humility and here-and-nowness.
It usually happens around this time of year in Ireland and it happened to me yesterday out on the Cliff Walk in Dunmore East.
There I was listening to the gulls and mesmerised by the pastel shades all around me when I felt a deep glow of heat on my back. I call it the hug of the sun and it reminds me that Summer is on her way.
Once you get this feeling, everything starts to fall into place and yesterday there were signs of Summer all around me.
Joggers in T-shirts and shorts chatting and laughing as they ran like free birds:
The deep blue sea and the sight of Hook Head Lighthouse basking in the sun:
And down below me, a colourful fishing boat dancing along towards Dunmore East Harbour:
I’m not saying for one moment that I want Summer to hurry along. Spring has far too much to offer us yet but these little glimpses of Summer are what make ‘pet’ days so magical.
Today has been one of those pet days which seems to have hopped in from Summer to say ‘hello.’
The garden beckoned and that delicious feeling of being embraced by nature. These lines from W.B. Yeats’ Among School Children kept floating in and out of my head:
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer, Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?
There was such a sense of glimpsing Spring, yet admiration for Winter’s glory. At times, it seemed wrong to disturb nature, especially when she gently closed her curtains on me:
Wise and wrinkled textures from Winter were glancing at the enthusiastic shoots of Spring.
It seemed right that it would be the climbing hydrangea that was springing forward, wrapping herself around the solid trunk of the Monkey Puzzle Tree:
The snowdrops that were showing white a week ago were nodding their heads every so gently to assuage my amazement that they could have survived the vicious Storm Rachel that ravaged Ireland a few days ago.
The thorny debate around Aristotle’s theory that Nature abhors a vacuum, that has lain dormant since the dark days came, re-emerged from under the front hedge with a burst of orange. Here lay one of the many buoys that have begged to be brought home from the windswept beaches over the last few months.
The dreamy in-betweenness of today was starkly questioned by the shadow of a tree at sundown as I ran to the shop to get some coal for tonight’s fire.
We have just moved into Winter Time here in Ireland and it feels like we have crossed from light into darkness.
It’s at times like this that I find myself turning to poetry as it never fails to serve as a bridge to help me get from one mindset to another.
The poem that brought great solace today as the rain poured and the sun seemed to have turned his face away forever was this one:
from What the Light Teaches
Language is the house with lamplight in its windows,
visible across fields. Approaching, you can hear
music; closer, smell
soup, bay leaves, bread – a meal for anyone
who has only his tongue left.
It’s a country; home; family
abandoned; burned down; whole lines dead, unmarried.
For those who can’t read their way in the streets,
or in the gestures and faces of strangers,
language is the house to run to;
in wild nights, chased by dogs and other sounds,
when you’ve been lost a long time,
when you have no other place.
There are nights in the forest of words
when I panic, every step into the thicker darkness,
the only way out to write myself into a clearing,
which is silence.
Nights in the forest of words
when I’m afraid we won’t hear each other
over clattering branches, over
both our voices calling.
In winter, in the hour
when the sun runs liquid then freezes,
caught in the mantilla of empty trees;
when my heart listens
through the stethoscope of fear,
your voice in my head reminds me
what the light teaches.
Slowly you translate fear into love,
the way the moon’s blood is the sea.
(Source: Staying Alive, 2002, edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe Books)
Summertime started here in Ireland yesterday. It seemed like the world was still sleeping as I wandered around stunning Mount Congreve Garden, here in Co. Waterford, very early on what was a calm and balmy morning.
Here’s a hint of how the Garden looked as it moves into April:
There was a mad storm here in Ireland today and that provided the perfect space to think about, what I call, Winter poems, not to be confused with Christmas ones!
So here are my top three:
1. William Wordsworth’s lines from The Prelude about Skating:
And in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set, and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
I heeded not their summons: happy time
It was indeed for all of us–for me
It was a time of rapture! Clear and loud 430
The village clock tolled six,–I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice in games
Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures,–the resounding horn,
The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare.
So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
And not a voice was idle; with the din
Smitten, the precipices rang aloud; 440
The leafless trees and every icy crag
Tinkled like iron; while far distant hills
Into the tumult sent an alien sound
Of melancholy not unnoticed, while the stars
Eastward were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away.
Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Into a silent bay, or sportively
Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,
To cut across the reflex of a star 450
That fled, and, flying still before me, gleamed
Upon the glassy plain; and oftentimes,
When we had given our bodies to the wind,
And all the shadowy banks on either side
Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
The rapid line of motion, then at once
Have I, reclining back upon my heels,
Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs
Wheeled by me–even as if the earth had rolled
With visible motion her diurnal round! 460
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train,
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched
Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep.
2. Patrick Kavanagh’s Advent:
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.
O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.
3. And that great love poem by W.B. Yeats which focuses on the Winter of Life:
When You Are Old
WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.
I’d love to hear about your favourite Winter Poems?