Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Poems for March 17

In honor of St. Patricks... Seamus Heaney, a little Irish poetry...

Song of Amergin (Robert Graves Translation)
March by Patrick Kavanagh
The Song of Wandering Aengus – W.B. Yeats
The Otter by Seamus Heaney
The Skunk by Seamus Heaney
Molly Bawn by Dubliners:
version by Chieftains w/ great Irish bagpipes:

Monday's discussion included Judith's suggestion to share Lady Gregory : The Grief of a Girl’s Heart... and a poem by the Earl of Desmond (see p. 219 in Irish Literature)and a lively piece memorized by heart,and much background about Graves' White Goddess. Bobbi kindly shared background on Irish Suibhe (fairies) and Yeats (and his pining after Maude Gonne (and her five refusals), Martin lent his Jungian expertise about the pursuit of the feminine. Don filled us in on some of the ethics problems of Aquinas (which death by trolley to choose, etc.) and so much more.

Many did not know how funny Seamus Heaney could be, particularly in "The Skunk" and its delightful turn at the end. (I quoted this anecdote about "Had I Not Been Awake at Emory on March 2nd, 2013". The poem, from his final collection, Human Chain, recalls the aftermath of the stroke he suffered in 2006. A fierce wind hits the house “unexpectedly” and “dangerously” but jolts him into life:
“And got me up, the whole of me a-patter, / Alive and ticking like an electric fence: / Had I not been awake I would have missed it”.

I am no expert on 12th century Irish poetry, the book of Leinster, or Celtic languages but enjoy pondering the differences in translation. "Does Gaelic use articles as in English" is a good question that came up. The power of anaphor "I am" speaking as God seems stronger without an article put in front of the nouns. Why in R.A.S. MacAllister's translation is it "I am Wind on Sea... Ocean-wave, Roar of sea, Bull of Seven Fights, vulture on Cliff, etc. but I am A mountain in A Man, A word of skill, THE point of a weapon...

(Note: The transformation of Tuan mac Cairill (to survive the flood and invasions to be the oldest man in Ireland) are: deer, eagle, salmon: implied cosmological significance: eagle (sky); deer (land); salmon sea; boar (otherworld.)

The second, contemporary poem by Patrick Kavanagh gives a flavor to March, and the season of Lent. Many of us wrinkled our brows at "A hell/fantasy/ meadows damned/to eternal April" (an Easter/resurrection connotation?). How is the syntax working? I love the compound nouns -- 'ghost-wind' and 'throat-rattle' to my ear are kennings (A figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry; for example, 'storm of swords' is a kenning for battle)-- or if not Kennings, then a marvelously strong and unusual blend. "Hell-fantasy" for example, seems to point to a greater meaning than two juxtaposed nouns
thrown in a compound.
I love this:
"In the wind vacancies (also a kenning?)
Saint Thomas Aquinas"...

Certainly, the scholasticism of Aquinas is part of the Catholic tradition... and how does one make decisions (Don brought up his Ethics the death by trolley argument, Elaine, drones and collateral damage)but perhaps like "wind vacancies", such argument is (to quote Judith) 'useless and pedantic'...

For the Yeats, we enjoyed the language -- and uncanny images such as stars as moth-light flickering. The discussion rambled over mythology, unrequited love, magic, searching for the feminine, the sweetness of pain, "delusional nostalgia" (etymology of place + pain) or some form of grace... For three stanzas to generate such an abundance of response, speaks to the "wandering", threaded time over and again by "and"... We examined how the poem straddles accessible/obscure.

For "the Otter", I admire the opening line -- not one that floats from the pen, but one which reflects much thought, writing, revision, I would think. "You" is yet unnamed,
and clearly powerful, (for me, an image of "rings of bright water" unsettling the surface). Maura shared her memory of her swimming daughter, the holding after a meet.
The line, "Thank God for the slow loadening" stopped us all in our tracks... the O, as longest vowel, with an embracing form, Omega-union..."Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment," moves us to universals, as well as personal reflections.
How different this "real" woman from the illusory one Yeats portrays.

Heaney himself described his essays as "testimonies to the fact that poets themselves are finders and keepers, that their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for."

The delight of "Skunk" -- Mary's share of her fondness for their special perfume... the images of funeral garb and "broaching" the wife -- (we did discuss all variants of the verb... I go for the slow turning over, warming up of a ghost)and the "slender I"
coming back to him, in a comical gesture, which does not undo the work-up of memory, but rather brings a vibrant humor.

We ended with a snippet of the Chieftains and the slow dirge of Molly Bawn --
the "shooting of his dear" has at least 88 variants (and 19 fragments)--
the lilt of the lyrics, the repetitions (setting of the sun; mistook her as a swan (some say fawn) oh what have I done? reinforce the tragedy of the accident.

I am grateful for the chance to share in dabbling ever so briefly into an enormous subject... As ever, comments are welcome!

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