The Hermitage translated from Irish 9th century by Frank O’Connor
Grant me sweet Christ the grace to find –
Son of the Living God! –
A small hut in a lonesome spot
To make it my abode.
A little pool but very clear
To stand beside the place
Where all men’s sins are washed away
By sanctifying grace.
A pleasant woodland all about
To shield it from the wind,
And make a home for singing birds
Before it and behind.
A southern aspect for the heat,
A stream along its foot,
A smooth green lawn with rich top soil
Propitious to all fruit.
My choice of men to live with me
And pray to god as well;
Quiet men of humble mind –
Their number I shall tell.
Four files of three or three of four
To give the psalter forth;
Six to pray by the south church wall
And six along the north.
Two by two my dozen friends –
To tell the number right –
Praying with me to move the king
Who gives the sun its light.
A lovely church, a home for God,
Bedecked with linen fine,
Where over the white Gospel page
The Gospel candles shine.
A little house where all may dwell
And body’s care be sought,
Where none shows lust or arrogance,
None thinks an evil thoughts
And all I ask for housekeeping
I get and pay no fees,
Leeks from the garden, poultry, game,
Salmon and trout and bees.
My share of clothing and of food
From the king of fairest face,
And I to sit at times alone
And pray in every place.
What would compel a person to want to renounce all worldly goods and comforts in the pursuit of an ascetic life? Hermits live in seclusion from the world and a hermitage is the settlement where a small group of these hermits might live together religiously and as ascetics. Hermits or ascetic solitaries were common in early Middle Ages Ireland. The etymology of hermit comes from the Greek eremia for desert and is a reference to the Desert Fathers of the 4th century and indicates the solitary life. The most determined hermits sought their desert on the islands on the sea. In the 9th century there was a group of articulate and highly persuasive monks who referred to themselves as companions of God and as such revitalised the hermitage tradition. Why did hermits feel this compunction? Monasteries had in the earlier 6th to 8th centuries made strong alliances with the rich and wealthy families of Ireland; thus the monastic and the secular were increasingly indistinguishable with wealthy landlords becoming abbots and then passing this rule on to their sons. Meanwhile, monks also fought in wars and often turned to their Kings rather than their fellow churchmen for support. So the culdees or revivalists of the monastic life in the 9th century encouraged hermits to retire to a secluded spot and pray, study and work the land for their providence. So it is about withdrawing from the world and contemplating God. This poem speaks to the cenobite as opposed to the eremite; to the hermit living in community as opposed to the hermit living alone and in seclusion. Finally, the hermits of the 9th century Ireland would have practised Lectio Divina or the four lessons of God: Lectio, reading Scripture, Mediatio, reflecting on the Scripture, Oratio, praying and Contemplatio, deep reflective thought.
Extract from The Alchemy of Poetry
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The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction