The Song of Finn in Praise of May

When Finn Mac Cumhal was a young man, he studied with the bard Finegas, ate the Salmon of Wisdom, and learned the ancient art of poetry. Before he left Finegas, he composed this poem to prove his skill:

May Day! delightful day!
Bright colours play the vales along.  Now wakes at morning’s slender ray,
Wild and gay, the blackbird’s song.

Now comes the bird of dusty hue,
The loud cuckoo, the summer-lover;  Branching trees are thick with leaves;
The bitter, evil time is over.Swift horses gather nigh
Where half dry the river goes; Tufted heather crowns the height;
Weak and white the bogdown blows.

Corncrake sings from eve till morn,
Deep in corn, a strenuous bard! Sings the virgin waterfall,
White and tall, her one sweet word.Loaded bees of little power
Goodly flower-harvest win; Cattle roam with muddy flanks;
Busy ants go out and in.

Through, the wild harp of the wood
Making music roars the gale—Now it slumbers without motion,
On the ocean sleeps the sail.Men grow mighty in the May,
Proud and gay the maidens grow;  Fair is every wooded height;
Fair and bright the plain below.A bright shaft has smit the streams,
With gold gleams the water-flag;  Leaps the fish, and on the hills
Ardour thrills the flying stag.

Carols loud the lark on high,
Small and shy, his tireless lay, Singing in wildest, merriest mood
Of delicate-hued, delightful May.

 

Source:

9th Century Poem.

“The Boyhood of Finn Mac Cumhal” [chapter 9]. Rollston, T.W. The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland. 1910WEB. Public Domain through Project Gutenberg.

See also Dr Kuno Meyer’s prose translation in Ériu (the Journal of the School of Irish Learning), Vol. I. Part II.

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Easter Monday

 

Early on the day of Easter Monday

I saw on the brine

A duck and a white swan

Swim together.

CCO Creative Commons ; free use through Pixabay

From the Scottish oral tradition;  from the Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations Collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland collected by Alexander Carmichael in the late 19th Century.

Today is Easter Monday for those in the Orthodox Christian faith.

February Harbinger

Walking to the bus stop after work last night, I saw my first Spring flower

and wrote a poem.

 

February Harbinger

 

 

A yellow crocus cannot lie.

 

After burrowing all winter,

(breathing beside bears)

she yawns and stretches.

She pokes her pert green nose

past the crumbling den of Hades’ habitation.

She whispers:

 

Spring is near

 

 

 

 

Evening Song of St. Patrick

To me, Winter is a time of rest and quiet reflection. The weather is cold (usually!) and we stay indoors. I joke that I am part bear.  In January, I hibernate; I refuse to leave the house if I don’t have to.

A sleep prayer is good for anytime of the year, but it seems all the more appropriate when the nights come early and last long.

Evening Song of St. Patrick from “Selections of Irish Poetry” translated by Kuno Meyer

 

May Thy holy angels, O Christ, son of living God,
Guard our sleep, our rest, our shining bed.

Let them reveal true visions to us in our sleep,
O high-prince of the universe, O great king of the mysteries!

May no demons, no ill, no calamity or terrifying dreams
Disturb our rest, our willing, prompt repose.

May our watch be holy, our work, our task,
Our sleep, our rest without let, without break.
 This poem is from Kuno Meyer’s Selections From Ancient Irish Poetry,  and the title he gives is “An Even Song” with the note: “Patrick sang this.” Just Patrick; Patrick is famous enough in all of Ireland to need no honorific.  Translater and editor Meyer notes that St. Patrick himself couldn’t have written this, not exactly, since this text dates from the 8th Century.  Literature has a long tradition of ascribing texts to more famous figures.

The first stanza begins by requesting the protection of the angels. The Celtic world was so mindful of the angels! Their poems and prayers are full of them.  And if my childhood home didn’t petition the angels per se, we still had a popular art print of a guardian angel guiding children beneath a shadowy, ominous, branchy tree. I’m reminded of an Orthodox prayer we say at various times, including night: “Encompass us with thy holy Angels, that guided and guarded by them, we may attain to the unity of the faith . . .”

As for the second stanza, I’ve a mind to never request true visions; certain gifts from God may be humbly accepted, but not importuned.  Still, I have a special fondness for Psalm 16:7: “I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.”  Perhaps God comes to us at night because it is then when the noise of the day has ceased and we are finally able to truly listen.

And if the Celtic worldview was mindful of angels; it was likewise mindful of demons.  Like “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, a lorica prayer of protection which asks for shielding from many ills, including spells of wizards–one translation I have terms them ‘druids’!–this poem-prayer recognizes that demons also may visit our sleep.  I’ll tell you one thing: my bad dreams and nightmares decreased substantially–were practically eliminated–when I started saying prayers before bed, and even now when I awake from a bad dream, I think back to check if I had forgotten to pray before falling asleep.

“May our watch be holy.”  I think of the watchmen in Return of the King as popularized in the Peter Jackson movie. They watch, they wait. They light the signal fire to send a message, to request help, to warn of danger.
This Lord of the Rings segment in turn always reminds me of Bach’s Christmas cantata, 140, “Zion Hears the Watchmen Calling” [Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme].  Which is itself from the Matthew 25, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Indeed, the Midnight Office in the Orthodox Church includes hymns based on this gospel reading. We want to be wise and watchful, wide awake. Why? Because our watch and our work is holy.

I’m a bit prone to “the winter blues”–Seasonal Affective Disorder. As sleep refreshes us to continue our holy, watchful tasks, may the natural contemplation of the winter months rejuvenate us to continue our work when the sun returns to warm the earth. Meanwhile, keep taking your Vitamin D.

“The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins” by Alexander Master,  ~1430, from the National Library of Netherlands. Public Domain

Fun Facts
For a discussion of the realism of Peter Jackson’s beacon-lighters, with quotations from the applicable text of Tolkien’s book, visit this Science Fiction and Fantasy Q & A page.

Wikipedia seems to give some pretty in-depth information about Bach’s Cantata 140.

 

When the Fey Envy Humans

The original Little Mermaid wants to become human, not to marry a Disnified prince, but because she longs for a human soul.  In my favorite Irish folktale, “The Priest’s Supper,” the fey ask a priest about their eternal destiny.

You and I secretly or not-so-secretly wish magic was real, but it’s  a curious quirk of many of the old tales: our favorite supernatural entities want to be human.

quotation from A Green And Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

In Frederick S. Durbin’s A Green and Ancient Light, a young man’s Grandmother has an old family friend who is eventually revealed as Otherworldly.

Durbin’s book offers the same appeal as one of my childhood favorites, Bette Greene’s The Summer of My German Soldier, although his is a fantastic setting to Greene’s realism. Durbin’s nearly-teen protagonist helps rescue an enemy soldier in a conflict that is never named but feels like an alternate-Earth World War II. The appeal of these books is their exploration of what it means to be human and what it means to be “other.”  In both of these books, enemy combatants/reluctant soldiers have more humanity than some fellow citizens.

The family friend, the fey Mr. Girandole, eventually reveals that he loved Grandmother, but did not want to deprive her of the normal life of growing old with a person who ages beside you. As long as Grandfather was alive, Mr. Girandole kept a respectful distance.

At one point he confesses:

“I knew that humans have a gift that is not granted to us in Faery: this gift of giving the heart in devotion to one other soul, and walking through days of a limited number. This love of which your people are capable . . . It’s warmer than the warmest hearth in winter. It’s like a meteor, lighting the sky before it passes beyond” (215).

He offers an important insight regarding the importance and strength of love. Love is all the more valuable when offered, knowing that one day we will be separated from our beloved.

Cold days are upon us. Give thanks for your humanity this wintry season. And remember to love. Love deeply.

Love like a blazing hearth. Love cosmically, like a meteor.  In the words of the poet Kathleen Norris, may our love be

“starlike
and wild, as wide as grass,
solemn as the moon.” (from her poem “Little Girls in Church”)

Love like a human. Love with wild abandon. Love big enough to make the Good People envious.

 

Works Referenced

Durbin, Frederic S. A Green and Ancient Light. N.Y.: Saga Press, 2016.

Greene, Bette. Summer of My German Soldier. N.Y.: Bantam/Dell/Scholastic, 1973, 2006.

Norris, Kathleen. “Little Girls In Church” [poem] in Little Girls In Church. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.

Tra-la! It’s May

It’s been a busy, successful Spring.

I have two exciting announcements:

My story, “The Good Neighbors” has been published in Wild Musette Journal. Wild Musette is a home for “Dancers, Dreamers, Drummers, [and] Readers.” They offer books, short stories, cards, coloring books, and poetry. They are organizing an Irish Dance Vacation to County Sligo, Ireland in July 2018. I’m so proud and happy to be a part of this community.

“The Good Neighbors” is a story about the fey disrupting a young marriage. Set in Boston, the young woman protagonist studies Library Science at Simmons College–where I myself studied and earned my MLS. The rest of the story is fiction. Purchase a copy of Wild Musette Journal Issue #1701 to read my story.

 

Issue 1701

My poem, “The Faerie Queen” has been published in the Beltane 2017 issue of Three Drops From A Cauldron. Read it online for free, or purchase a copy.

More good news coming soon. Stay tuned!

 

 

The Blessing of the New Year

Here’s a Highlands New Year’s Blessing from the Carmina Gadelica. It’s traditional to say this poem “the first thing on the first day of the year.” (I’m a little late.)

"Camhanaich" by John McSporran.Creative Commons License. https://www.flickr.com/photos/127130111@N06/16477446765/in/photolist-r74dRK-pCvAqb-3vH1uX-742jEJ-5WoZyN-5WjHAx-jgcbLB-5NA2iD-59z2D5-5Wp1ao-5Wp1rN-idk3uu-quULh1-NtL9m-5NBxs8-3ujV2S-idket1-qpVmtD-dGi73e-qD5eAS-3gxPUj-6tnBKg-4fWSH4-pYVokH-teYUrb-6vk4bs-pVvZZS-8E7XxW-ifnC2R-dz925x-4f1gn3-CsoXck-8HAAKT-nkGcMA-axsW3e-nCbMGx-s8u7Rp-9dyfK4-4nsuoU-41wC45-4nsvnA-5Sqb6x-9dBg8b-9dBc5d-6cbe6Q-diHrH5-uJWiXq-APLtMP-qYDTsk-ASuxXP

“Camhanaich” by John McSporran via Flickr. Creative Commons License.  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

GOD, bless to me the new day,

Never vouchsafed to me before;

It is to bless Thine own presence

Thou hast given me this time, O God.

.

Bless Thou to me mine eye,

May mine eye bless all it sees;

I will bless my neighbor,

May my neighbor bless me.

.

God, give me a clean heart,

Let me not from sight of Thine eye;

Bless to me my children and my wife,

And bless to me my means and my cattle.

.

Happy New Year and many blessings for a brand new day: a new beginning every day.