The great Irish poet Derek Mahon died on 1st October. In terms of contemporary Irish poetry giants, this was the second great loss of the year. Eavan Boland passed away in April. Both were also influential on the international English language poetry scene. Boland was a professor at Stanford in California. Belfast born Mahon was a member of Aosdána, one of the select writers who received Irish Arts Council support to keep writers writing.
Mahon is the author of one of the poems nominated as a poetry prescription for our Covid19 times by The Atlantic magazine -“Everything Will Be Alright.” You can listen to the incomparable Andrew Scott (The Priest on Fleabag, Moriarty in the most recent Sherlock series) read the poem on this You Tube clip. https://youtu.be/kfjYhje2zrE
You might think from the poem’s title that it’s a bit Pollyanna-ish. But here is a line quoting from the poem to set you right. “There will be dying, there will be dying, …”
It reminds me of the mystic Mother Julian of Norwich, who is famous for her saying “all shall be well.” Mother Julian lived through, and survived, the Bubonic Plague and the Peasant’s Revolt. Catastrophe visits every century. We are not unique. Yet, amidst all that turmoil she set down her mystical visions in a book, Revelations of Divine Love.
I do not think that you need be a theist to contemplate that we need a great deal more love, empathy and compassion in our world. Julian of Norwich was an anchorite. She was literally isolated from the world, immersed in prayer, fasting and entertaining the angels of revelation, which she shared first with the people of Norwich, and then with the wider world.
Isolation can be hard, and harder still for some who rely on literal human connection on a daily basis. But perhaps there is a missed opportunity. A student of mine wrote a wonderful dialogue between grief and gratitude this week. To immerse yourself in loss alone is to miss the connection with its twin, gratitude. There will be death, but everything will be alright.
I am revisiting a poem written for NaPoWriMo 2020 this week, tweaking it and revising. The brief was to write about something handmade, but is really a litany of gratitude.
Handmade Once, a Celtic knot clock was in the Christmas box. Also, hand painted silk scarves, a Technicolor Joseph’s coat shawl made way back in the early 1970s, knitted coffee mug cozies. Each year, jars of pumpkin chutney, blackberry jam, apple jelly - gifts the visitor brings to the door. Decade after decade, the meals my mother made daily, casseroles from leftover ham at Easter, tuna melts on Fridays for when I got off the bus from college. Once, My father’s hand touched my mother’s shoulder. She turned towards him and let me in. Copyright© Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved
The world is going through heavy weather. We know multiple kinds of bereavement. But there is much to be grateful for, too. I am reminded that Quakers write not obituaries, but testimonies “to the grace of God as lived in the life of X”, giving thanks and celebrating the luminosity of a life well lived. Gratitude can help us navigate and mediate grief.