Poems on the wind – John Hewitt, Patrick McDonagh, Wallace Stevens

From First Known When Lost:

In the meantime, we have the wind.  And poems about the wind.

Providence

White roses shatter, overblown,
by the breath of a little wind undone,
yet the same air passing scarcely stirs
the tall dark green perpetual firs.

John Hewitt, Scissors for a One-Armed Tailor: Marginal Verses 1929-1954 (1974)

“Providence” feels like a haiku:  a report on experience.  (To borrow from Edmund Blunden.)  However, a word such a “providence” would likely be avoided by a haiku poet.  Too subjective.  Of course, I am completely open to the possibility that what the wind does may well be “providence”:  I am not in any way criticizing Hewitt’s use of the word.

Hewitt, like a good haiku poet, tells us exactly what he saw.  The difference is that he gives us a hint.  A haiku poet would leave us to draw our own conclusions.  Or, better yet, would leave us to draw no conclusions at all, but only see the World as it is, or, perhaps more accurately, as the haiku poet saw it in a moment of passing time.

Enough of that.  I do not wish to create the impression that I am quibbling about “Providence”:  I think it is a lovely poem.  As is this, another poem about the wind of Ireland.

Afterpeace

This wind that howls about our roof tonight
And tears live branches screaming from great trees
Tomorrow may have scarcely strength to ruffle
The rabbit’s back to silver in the sun.

Patrick MacDonogh, Poems (edited by Derek Mahon) (The Gallery Press 2001).

Of course, poets cannot help but bring humans into their apostrophes about the wind.  Thus, for instance, they say that the wind “sighs” or “moans” or “cries.”  This is to be expected.  All poetry, all art, is an attempt to place ourselves into the World in the hope of making sense of things, however briefly.  It is not surprising that, in doing so, we see ourselves (or come upon ourselves) in the World.

Moreover, we mustn’t forget that the beautiful particulars of the World include human beings.  The wind.  People.

The Wind Shifts

This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf 1923).

We are the wind and the wind is us.  The wind is us and we are the wind.

10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

I have posted before about #OceanOptimism. This post is an interesting summary (in handy listicle format) of some learnings from the movement and the wider conservation optimism philosophy. This is an ethic which is far from being blandly reassuring about very wicked problems but is also not falsely wallowing in a rather ostentatious virtue-signalling misery.

A View To Sea

  1. ‘Conservation optimism is about planning for the future, not just holding the line’ – Elizabeth Bennett. Conservation optimists are focused on making positive change and taking real steps forward for recovery, turning passion into practice.
  1. It’s a powerful movement that’s growing fast, thanks to the drive of hundreds of motivated and inspirational conservationists.
  1. We need to widen who can call themselves a ‘conservationist’. As Heather Koldewey spoke about at the Summit, anyone can be a conservationist. You don’t have to have a science degree – this is for anyone from any discipline, with concern for our environment and the drive to work to protect it for future generations. No lab coat required.
  1. The passion showed by young people is the engine of the movement. School children’s voices have been seen to have strong weight in political decision-making, and the skills and optimism shown by young conservation professionals entering the field…

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“Of swallows, hares and horrors” – Simon Barnes on nature in the Age of Terror

Original here:

Wild June moves into Day 5 and I’m spoiled for choice again. Shall I write about the swallows above the meadow? Or the hare in the garden? We saw each other at the same time and we both froze, holding a 15 yard stand-off for a full minute. Or perhaps I’ll turn to the butterflies that –

Tell me: is it wicked to enjoy such things in a time of devastation, after the horrors of Manchester have been followed by the horrors of London Bridge? Of if not wicked, is it not infinitely trivial, lacking in all seriousness, to bother with nature at times of random urban murder?

I did a piece for The World at One the other day, on the drastic decline of lesser sported woodpeckers. They put it on right at the end, cheerily describing it as “light relief”. I was a little surprised that extinction is now light relief, but I said nothing; I was glad to say something I thought worth saying on a damn good programme.

All the same, I really don’t think that the future of the planet is light relief. And I don’t think that it’s trivial to discuss that subject, even when we’re preoccupied with more immediate horrors. The environment is something that we all have to live in: our health, our happiness and our future are tied up in it, and so are those of our great-grandchildren.

The environment doesn’t become irrelevant, no matter how disturbing recent events have been. Swallows are useful indicators of the health and long-term viability of the planet we live on, being good monitors of pollution. The future of swallows is inextricably linked with our own. Swallows mattered before the events of the weekend, they matter today and they’ll matter even more tomorrow.

And then there’s the matter of consolation. Nature, the wild world, the non-human world, greenness, birdsong, running water, wildness and wilderness and weeds under swallow-filled skies: these things make life better, not just for bird-spotters but for everyone. They’re part of good times. But just as important — perhaps even more important – nature can also make life less bad.

Nature helps us to endure the terrible things in life just a little more easily. Nature makes life better on our good days; nature stops life being worse on our bad days.

Nature is not a pat solution to horror, grief, loss, terror and hopelessness. But we need nature to make us happy, we need nature to keep us safe and we need nature to console us. We need nature because life is wonderful and we need nature because life is terrible.

We need nature.

Hore Abbey, Cashel

Hore Abbey, Cashel


Hore Abbey is literally overshadowed by theRock of Cashel. It is well worth taking the path down from the Rock to the considerably less touristed Abbey. There is a relative lack of interpretative material, to say the least, except for this interesting information, especially on what I suspect was a rather convenient dream:

 

The abbey is reached by paths via a field which was populated by cows (and cowpats) aplenty. One doubts a Royal Visit is imminent.
From above on the Rock it appears a somewhat slight structure, an impression quickly corrected closer to. An air of monumentality remains, all the more accentuated for the relative abandonment.

St Jerome in His Study, Albrecht Dürer

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I first came across this engraving in an exhibition of Dürer engravings in the Chester Beatty Library over a decade ago.  In my completely uninformed way, what struck me most was the pleasingly cheerful sleeping lion, a contrast with the more famous apocalyptic engravings by the same artist of Melancholia, The Knight Death and The Devil,  and of course The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

While it is a little dispiriting to see Dürer reduced to listicle format, the Mental Floss article linked to above is actually pretty informative:

 

There’s no evidence to suggest Dürer saw Saint Jerome in His Study, Melancholia I, and Knight, Death, and the Devil as companion pieces, but modern art experts group the works because of their technical similarities. Each was created from copper printing plates between 1513 and 1514. They are similar in size and use of contrast, and as you’d expect of pieces called Meisterstiche (or Master Engravings), each is densely detailed with an expert care.

There is also a link with one of my recurrent blogging subjects:

12. JORGE LUIS BORGES PENNED TWO POEMS ABOUT THIS PIECE.
Named “Ritter, Tod, und Teufel” (I) and “Ritter, Tod und Teufel” (II), the first shows the Argentine author’s admiration for the knight’s bravery in the face of death and damnation, while the second reveals he can see himself in that very position.

 

I have never explored Borges’ poetry nearly as much as his prose. This page features  English versions of these poems.

Anyway, back to St Jerome after this knight’s move. Usually the saint is shown in the more dramatic setting of the desert. As you can read in this piece:

If you spend any time in the great art museums of Europe you will see with surprising frequency a more or less stylized portrait of an emaciated monk in a wilderness den, often pummeling his body with a stone …

In nearly all the portraits, Jerome is depicted as a tormented ascetic, praying, with his four hallmarks somewhere on the canvas: a crucifix, a skull (symbolizing meditation on mortality), a recumbent lion (which Jerome reputedly befriended by extracting a thorn from its paw and which may symbolize the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah 11), and a red cardinal’s hat (symbolizing Jerome’s status, along with Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, as one of the four great doctors of the Latin church).

There is however a rich tradition of paintings of him in his study.  The Christianity Today article linked to above acts as a good introduction to who St Jerome was and why, in the author’s view, he is especially relevant today (see my major caveat after the end of this passage):

The church’s debt to this brilliant, prolific, and influential scholar-monk is immense. Jerome was a thunderbolt, however, and conflict was a hallmark of his career. Indeed, he may have been one of those individuals who needed conflict in order to reach his zenith of his abilities.

What did the Renaissance find so appealing in Jerome? It was the conflict itself of a man who loved both the Christian faith and the pagan classics. Jerome had a terrifying dream of standing before Jesus Christ on judgment day and being rejected from salvation because of his love for the classics, and especially Cicero. Jerome’s intermittent and not entirely successful pursuit of the ascetic lifestyle was an attempt to purge the influence of paganism from his life. In its attempt to synthesize humanism and Christianity, the Renaissance found a mirror image in Jerome. The conflict of Christian versus classical, Trinitarian monotheism versus pagan polytheism that contended for the soul of Jerome also contended for the soul of Europe in the Renaissance.

There have been times when the Western church seemingly came close to resolving the conflict between the pagan and Christian. Dante’s synthesis of the classical and Christian worlds in The Divine Comedy was one instance, and the post-Reformation world of Protestant “state” churches was another.

The fitful romance between classical and Christian has never led to formal marriage, however, at least in the Latin West. The soul of the West continues to be nourished by the pagan and Christian, the Renaissance and (Counter) Reformation, but they stand in tension with one another. Go to Paris: in the Louvre you’ll feel the sensual attraction of paganism; in Notre Dame you’ll sense the spiritual attraction of Christianity.

In America the tension is present in other ways. The pagan current manifests itself in the ubiquitous temptation to put our ultimate trust in human idolatries such as advanced missile systems, the hegemony of athletics, or the lure of science as the arbiter of the only truth that matters. But a Christian and salvific current is present as well, as manifested in the ongoing debates over the meaning of the gospel for issues such as abortion, infanticide, torture, homosexuality, divorce, and utilitarian and militaristic ends of human life.

As long as we live in a fallen world a complete synthesis of gospel and culture will not be possible. Indeed, whenever it is attempted, the gospel is inevitably compromised. My own life repeatedly bears witness to the tension between the two worlds. Perhaps yours does too.

Ponder again the urbane scholar-monk in his wilderness den. A skull – our impending mortality; a docile lion – the majesty of the powerful and untamed in nature; the cardinal’s hat – a reminder of the ministry of the church in the world for good; and above all, the crucifix – the symbol of the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world. Jerome seems to be a necessary, if uncomfortable, icon for our own day.

While I don’t fully buy the idea that the gospel and culture (as opposed to, let’s say, worldliness, are in inherent tension – and one can feel a sensuality to the art of Notre Dame and a spirituality to the art of the Louvre), this is an interesting essay. Perhaps this engraving, while not as dramatic as the Desert Jerome, is in its way as counter cultural as Edwards suggests the more famous image is. Sitting in a study – with or without a sleeping lion – is its own form of contrariness in a distracted age.

“While there is still time”

The Mower
BY PHILIP LARKIN
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

 

 

St Leonard’s Well, Dunnamaggin, Kilkenny

St Leonard’s Well, Dunnamaggin, Kilkenny

St Leonard is the patron of Dunnamaggin, as well as women in labour and imprisoned people. KCLR fm have an mini documentary on this well with an interesting and charming interview with Ned Kirwan, the owner of the land who restored and maintained the well. There is a Swiss connection discussed and also the fact that no Dunnamaggin person is known to have died by “thunder or lightning”.

From the road through Dunnamaggin , one sees a neat sign :

And in a field , a well kept enclosure surrounds the well. You get over a small step-stile into the field and over you go.

There are information sheets posted on trees in the well:

This reads “St Leonard’s Well is midway between the old church and cemetery and the present church. It was a place of pilgrimage where a procession began and proceeded to the old church. The well has been renovated in recent years and in 2012 the annual mass of welcomes was celebrated at the well. The area is on the land of Ned Kirwan who maintains it to a very high standard”

“In ca 1800 an alabaster statue was discovered, presumably of St Leonard, by the Brennan family who owned the land. In cases of dispute among neighbours, arguing parties made declarations with hand placed on the statue believing that the testimony given was as binding as an oath.”

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There is also a longer sheet with a biography of St Leonard from Fr Alban Butler’s The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints. Unfortunately I cannot find the text of the third volume of this online… so here is a link to his Wikipedia page and Catholic Encyclopaedia entry

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