A Bird in the Hand . . .

Glendalough 001I was sick for much of the Spring, and now that the deck furniture has been taken out and scrubbed, we are feeling the first true heat of the summer, too warm to do my writing outdoors, too bright to see the screen of my laptop.

Still, I like the idea of writing outdoors, even if I can’t quite manage it myself.

An anonymous Irish monk liked it too, inscribing a brief poem written in old Irish on the margins of the Latin grammar text he was copying:

A hedge of trees surrounds me, a blackbird’s lay sings to me, praise I shall not conceal.

Above my lined book the trilling of the birds sings to me.

A clear-voiced cuckoo sings to me in a grey cloak from the tops of bushes,

. . . well do I write under the greenwood.

The blackbird brings to mind St. Kevin of Glendalough (not the author of this poem). He was said to be so calm and peaceful in prayer that a blackbird lit upon his outstretched arm like the branches of a tree. The bird laid a nest in his palm and for all of Lent, Kevin remained still in prayer. The bird fed him nuts and berries, and the eggs hatched by Easter.

Behind my house, the crows carouse, rowdy as teenagers, cawing their gossip in the tall tree all afternoon.  The sparrows in my garden peck insects from rich soil and take refreshment in my sprinkler, flitting jumpily at the rattle of my hand on the doorknob as I look outside.

My thoughts are crows and sparrows, cawing noisily, flitting restlessly.

How much inner peace does it take to quiet a crow? How much reassurance calms a sparrow? How much patience guards a nest from egg to hatchling? I have none of these gifts.

I have a laptop and a spare bedroom overlooking the back yard where I write and pray. This time of year, thick leafy veils nearly obscure my neighbors’ houses, offering my suburban home the illusion of countryside, an indoor glen.

I can offer you well wishes:

May your writing be green and fertile.

May your prayers be deep and focused.

May your thoughts be calm.

May your life yield compassion to blackbirds and all of God’s children.

St Kevin

For Further Interest

More about St. Kevin, from the Glendalough Hermitage Centre in Ireland.

St. Kevin’s Day info.

Another blackbird tale, by Lord Dunsany, available through Sacred Texts online.

The monk’s poem quoted above: “The Scribe In The Woods” in Davies, Oliver & Fiona Bowie, ed. Celtic Christian Spirituality: An Anthology of Medieval and Modern Sources. N.Y.: Continuum, 1995, p. 29. Available through Amazon (a different edition than my own).

Photo Credits

Above: Glendalough, Ireland, 2003. By the author.

Middle: Postcard of St. Kevin purchased in the Glendalough gift shop.

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