Recently, I traveled out to Clonmacnoise. A Sunday morning, grey watercolors soggy above and verdant cold green mush below with the River Shannon bending with lazy insouciance this way and that.
It rained, of course.
I think it must have been June, so summer, but it rained and rained and rained. Beyond the actual monastery ruins, grazing on the banks of the river, were heavy cows moving about their business. Uninterested in the growing number of tourists pouring into the ruins.
Every so often the showers would increase in velocity and tourists would scamper about to take shelter. I had just walked some of the Camino in France so muck and mud and a bit of weather was no deterrent.
Anyway, I searched until I came to the oratory. A tiny doorway leading into an even smaller space, despite there being no roof or windows. I walked about touching the walls and thinking about Heaney and the monks and the crewman who nearly got stuck in our world. If you press your ear to the stone you can almost hear the struggle.
And then the oratory grew expansive and the sun literally came out from behind the clouds and ran lines of Naples Yellow and Burnt Sienna through the gothic windows. It was a glory to behold!
Later that day as we sat around my dear friend’s dinner table on her farm close by, with her two young laborers, we talked about what we had seen and Heaney’s sonnet. One of the young men recited the poem just off the cuff, between his baked dinner and a slab of brown bread.
Later, we drove up to Bellaghy on a Sunday morning. Grey mattered clouds, icy rain and grey pebble dash houses leaning right in on the road. Initially, we went out to Lough Beg to watch its slow meander and we leaned over the rail on the fishing boat siding and talked about Heaney and his cousin and his poetry. Later, around mid-morning, we drove into the car park of St Mary’s Catholic Church. There was no one about and so we had the whole grave yard to ourselves.
It was easy to find, Heaney’s gravestone. It was large and clean with the epitaph: Walk on air, against your better judgement. I guess that’s exactly what he is doing. I asked one of my students once what she thought it meant; immediately she answered: be bold! How perfect. A leap of faith … a jump off the cliff … into the breach even in the face of annihilation. Yes, this poet has taught me that very truth.
Finally, I persuaded himself, who at the time was a God-fearing agnostic, to come into the huge blue stone church and look around. This all went well but very quickly and nearly without us noticing the church began to fill up with Church goers. We decided to leave before the Mass began and exited to the car park. Our car was wedged in the center of a sea of cars parked seemingly without rhyme or reason. In other words, there was no getting out of Mass. We returned and shuffled back into what seats remained.
On a final note, I have never sat through a sermon where the priest not only began by quoting a poet but continued throughout his address reflecting on the wisdom and challenge generated by some of the greatest poets of his nation; including Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney. I was in heaven and walked on air!
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
Get your copy and send Elizabeth your review!
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