Monday, 21 December 2009

At midnight in the snow

I've just been for a midnight walk along the snowy streets, where everything is silent beneath the covering of white. There's no sound of cars -- the roads are too icy for drivers to get out -- and London is quieter than I've ever heard it. There is still a distant humming from faraway (of I know not what; but the city is never entirely still).
And as I was walking, I thought of the year that led up to this quiet moment. It began amidst the turmoil of great grief (for me, at least; although all the clamour of my sorrow is so small in this huge world), and is now coming to a close in a more peaceful way. If I have learnt one thing in the turning of the year, it is that however much one might want to be dull the pain of loss, it cannot be evaded; and yet unexpected joys can still appear out of nowhere, and a sense of blessing descends, even when you feared that the sky was falling down.
On Friday, I went to the funeral of a mentor, Paul Eddy, who I was fortunate enough to work for as a young journalist at the Sunday Times. The tributes were eloquent and moving, as were the words of the vicar, who said something very simple yet resonant: which is that at the end of a life, the most important thing is to know what it is to love, and to be loved.
He also quoted from a poet named John O'Donohue, an Irish writer, Celtic scholar and philosopher, who I hadn't come across before; and as is often the case, I then caught a few lines from the same poet on the radio a couple of days later (coincidence, or a chiming of the universe, or a blend of the two; the most potent magic of all).
So here is a poem by John O'Donohue; the Gaelic title is 'Beannacht'


On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


kairu said...

What a beautiful poem, again.

Almost exactly a year ago, when snow blanketed Seattle and brought the city to a screeching halt, I went out with my camera, late at night, while the snow was falling thickly all around, and took pictures of the quiet stillness. I can hardly believe a year has passed.

I have felt lucky to have these blog-comment conversations with you and the others who visit here, Justine. It can't be said enough how wonderful and enriching it has been, how many wonderful books I have discovered and rediscovered. Do not ever feel your sorrow is small; for you it is not, and that is all that matters. I have wished, again and again, that I could in some way take away some of your burden of grief, and I have rejoiced in your moments of unexpected joy. I hope there will be more of these moments of happiness in the year to come.

Kerry said...

"If I have learnt one thing in the turning of the year, it is that however much one might want to be dull the pain of loss, it cannot be evaded; and yet unexpected joys can still appear out of nowhere, and a sense of blessing descends, even when you feared that the sky was falling down."

Which is proof you are an extaordinary writer. All the best to you for a 2010 full of joys out of nowhere and out of everywhere.

jaywalker said...

Thought you might like an Australian poem about love. I have always liked this one by Bruce Dawe, one of our foremost modern poets.

Definition of Loving

Thank you for love, no matter what its outcome,
that leads us to the window in the dark,
that adds another otherness to others,
that holds out stars as if they were first diamonds
found in a mine that had been long closed down,
that hands out suns and makes us ask each morning:
What else do we need, picnickers in time?
Thank you for love that does not hang on answers,
that says, 'Enough's enough, to love is plenty...'
--- by such signs do we know the world exists,
amo ergo sum, thank you for that.
The miles, the years, the lives that lie between
--- they always lay there, and they always will,
but look, the loved one spans the dizzy distance
by the act of being, and we lovers turn
our faces steadily thou-wards as a field
of sunflowers like a tracking station turns,
charting its meaning by the westering sun.

- Bruce Dawe

oxford-reader said...

That is a beautiful poem - so resonant and tinged with that type of sadness unique to the Irish.
Hardly any snow to speak of in Oxford, just ice!

Your blog always manages to make me think of things in a different light, and I feel as blessed as Kairu to be able to communicate on here.

enid said...

It is too true that there are moments of great joy in life. One of my favourite quotes is He had found out that on very rare occasions life will offer up something as full and wonderful as anything the imagination can muster - may there be many such occasions for you. Thanks for a great blog.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you all -- to everyone who has commented, on this post and on previous ones, to those regular voices that I have come to think of as friends -- and to everyone who reads the blog, even if they are silent. I've met some of the silent readers at various literary festivals this year, and it's been so nice to hear your voices then.
A blog is about silence, as well as words; about the space between us, as well as the way we can reach out to one another; about sharing, despite (or perhaps because of) great distances...

Sarah Standalone said...

Beautiful, thank you Justine. My home was full of an assortment of friends last night, people who couldn't get home. Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas wherever you are, from this very snowy corner of Bucks.

enid said...

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

- Raymond Carver

(from 'Last Fragment')

Justine Picardie said...

I love those lines -- thank you.

Kentishmaid said...

John O Donohue had such a way with words. Both his poetry and prose are full of many gems. In Anam Cara, his first book, he speaks of life as being like lace. It is the spaces between the threads which help make the pattern. There are so often spaces in our lives; loss, grief, rejection. Yet those times define us as much as the threads, the good times, the joy. I hope 2010 brings you peace and hope.
I recommend John O Donohue's "Benediction", his last book of blessings published just after his sudden death almost two years ago.

Anonymous said...

A poem very much in the Celtic tradition, and very beautiful. Thanks for sharing it

Blue Floppy Hat said...

The poem is beautiful, thank you for sharing it with us here.
I can't say that this year has been particularly good, but there have been much worse years in the past. If anything, I'm grateful to have developed enough spine to know that I will survive, even if I'm grumpy at having a paper to submit to a professor tomorrow.

Merry Christmas to everyone here, and may the New Year be good to you.

Knitting Out Loud said...

Merry Christmas to everyone.

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