Monday, March 19, 2012

Post-St. Paddy's Day Poem: What is the language of the heart's red blood?

bullet holes at the General Post Office, Dublin, 2007

Last post was praise, and I loved you joining me.

Then Sunday, the day after St. Patrick's Day, I spent hours rereading Irish history (from the Great Famine, aka the Potato Famine 1845-1852, through the Easter Rising 1916), and the poems of Padráig Pearse (Patrick Henry Pearse). He was gifted with words, and was chosen to be spokesman for the Easter Rising in 1916. He wrote of a mother’s heart awash in the blood of sons who fought for country in his poem "The Mother," something I can relate to, at least in part. (I have not had a son at war, but I have experienced childbirth, and a mother's heart.)
The Mother

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow--And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.

~ Padráig H. Pearse
Sadly and synchronously, Padráig, his brother Willie and thirteen others were executed after the rebellion, after being held in the Kilmainham jail. Into our psyche all this bloody history and the bad news of today gets tucked, apart from our will or intention. (For some very good news, take 16 minutes to watch Peter Diamandis talk about Abundance in our Future in this TED video.) Anyway, I'm sorry for the downer post.
About the photos: I took the photo at top in front of Dublin's General Post Office in 2007 to document the bullet holes from the 1916 Easter Rising. When I took the picture, I did not even see the man in the background. Later, someone pointed out the remarkable and eerie resemblance to Padráig Pearse (second photo), who proclaimed an Irish Republic practically on the same spot where the man in my photo stands.

What is the language of the heart's red blood?

The slosh and drone of the washing
machine could be the sound track
of my wrestling dream last night,
my secret self soaked in her lonely
unconscious waters, agitated between
pain and beauty. What is the place
for me, inside and outside dark caves
of nature, and the long rooms
of strategy, men, and war? And these petty
winds that blow into sleep out of this or that
maternal forest or sacred mountain of love.
They dissolve like sugar in public life. I sit
with a ceramic mug in the pinked dawn,
my tongue tucked in its habitual chip. 
Vanilla, coffee, daylight. What is the language
of the heart’s red blood, grown sweeter, or
more bitter, through the tossing, washing,
roast and ferment in fields of sleep?

March 2012


hedgewitch said...

I don't think this post is a downer--a bit more in the grit and churn than usual, but so is life sometimes, and if anything would put one there, I imagine it would be reading the history of the Irish. It's a very interesting contrast in perspective you bring out Ruth, in the two poems, Pearse's elegy and your poem of questions. There's no doubt all the important messages we get and give are written in the heart's scarlet ink, and the maternal is asked to write a great many in response to the acidic world of 'public life,' 'strategy, men, and war.' Isn't it indicative of a difference that can't be quantified, I wonder, between the masculine and feminine that so few women ever take up the so-called art of war themselves, and yet, as in Pearse's poem, are presumed not to grudge losing their children to a cause men see as just? I wonder how many Irish mothers do actually share the sentiments in that poem, that in the end, a 'righteous' war is worth losing your sons, because one can be proud of them. But we lose our sons to many things, I suppose, less worthy of that sacrifice, and that make less sense, and I agree, if anyone would know, it would be the mothers of Ireland, who have sent so many forth to be soldiers. Thanks for this very thought provoking post, and for an excellent poem.

Kathleen said...

I am very moved by the post and your own poem, and the coincidence of the resemblance of the men. The bullet holes get to me, too.

I, too, have been immersed in Irish history. I just attended the opening of an Irish history exhibit--far-reaching, yet also centering on the Irish and Scots-Irish who happened to settle in our area of Illinois. My poetry group has been reading Irish history and exploring their own heritage--many indeed are Irish or have intersected with the Irish in important ways--and writing poems in preparation for a reading at the museum. So much sorrow. And my daughter recently read "A Modest Proposal" in school. Sigh....

If I haven't mentioned to you the singer Eddi Reader, let me recommend her now--notably singing the songs of Robert Burns.

Cait O'Connor said...

Everything in this post touches my Irish heart, thank you.

The similarity in the photos is mysterious.

Ruth said...

Dear Hedge, thank you for reading and for such an engaged response. I do wonder if a man can speak for a mother this way. Pearse was considered too blood-thirsty by some, and when I read about that, I wanted to reread some of the history to see if I could put my heart there and understand what might lead a man to be that way. I hate war. But perhaps there are reasons for it that make more sense than others. The Irish certainly have a helluva lot to be angry about. My favorite story of a female response to war is the Al-Khair movement in Sudan, when women refused sex with their men until they stopped their tribal fighting. I hear that it worked.

Ruth said...

Kathleen, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I have far to go to understand more about Irish history. I get so far, and then I have to stop, it's all so infuriating. Thank you for the recommendation to listen to Eddi Reader. I look forward to it.

Cait, thanks for reading, and I'm grateful this touched your heart.

George said...

As all poets should, you and Pearse call upon us to look at this dark side of life. Initially, to be candid, I couldn't comment because of the memory of my own Irish family and what I know of their suffering for generations under English occupation and oppression. I'm also acutely aware of the unspeakable suffering we see daily in our world—the murder of those sixteen people in Afghanistan by an American soldier on his fourth combat killing tour, the murder of Trayvon Williams because of the color of his skin, the situation in Uganda—on and on and on. "I weary, weary of the long sorrow," to use Pearse's words, but, unlike Pearse, I sometimes question whether I can find enough joy to sustain my spirits through the evil than men do. We march on, picking up shafts of light where we can find them.

Ruth said...

George, it pains me that my post brought to mind the suffering of your family, for generations and centuries. You, unlike me, suffered it through them, for them, and you compiled a book to tell their stories.

I am quite torn about how we write about such things. In some way, it isn't right for me to write of this wrong, as it is not my own, and I can't speak for anyone who suffered through any of it. I think of the viral Kony video for the Invisible Children in Uganda, and how many Ugandans were outraged by it, because it did not have an African voice.

I don't know. I can't really write anyone else's story. But I wanted to write about the process of writing about this terrible violence of bloodshed. The truth is that these things do infuse our psyches deeply, as you attest, and so they belong to us all, we belong to each other.

Anonymous said...

What a finely crafted didactic, Ruth, This is extraordinary, taking the local and maternal and pouring the sad world into it. We are so privileged, in this country, to be far afield from the sort of strife that has decimated the Irish for centuries, or the Syrian people who face that red martydrom for wanting to be free. How can we be apart from it? And is it criminal to allow our poems to be that separate? Can our ecstasies have any validity in the face of that privilege and wrong? I just don't know, but a poem that takes the question to task to me is thinking with the heart. The question of the title is answered so finely in this bittersweet poem. One of my favorites, Ruth. - Brendan

George said...

Ruth, I did not mean to suggest that there was anything inappropriate about your writing this post. Indeed, I think it's the role of good writing to force us to pay attention to matters of great importance, and it makes no difference whether the writer is directly connected to the matter or not. Everything is connected; everything matters. Peace and injustice are always advanced whenever we call attention to injustice.

I'm certainly sorry if my comments caused you any pain. I was simply admitting that I was moved by the same things that moved you, Pearse, and so many others. We need to be reminded of both suffering and transcendence, and that is what your posting did. Well done, and don't think otherwise!

Ruth said...

Brendan, thanks so much. I think our ecstasies are what everyone who ever lives has a right to. Glimpses into what is divine in Life is my reason to live. I don't know how it's possible to live in the kind of agony that exists. But truly, truly, with all my heart, I believe that living our ecstasy is the way of salvation, for the whole world. I am a missionary of bliss. We have to take these grains of joy, love, light, life and make the most we can with them, and so in turn this will spread, grow, evolve. I am one who believes the world is getting better, no matter how much the news wants to convince us otherwise. Life in Uganda, for instance is coming 'round, thanks to changes in the last few years. There is a part in that TED video I linked to where he talks about the sliver in our brains that is left over from our early ancestors who needed fear to survive. We still have that sliver, and we gravitate to negativity because it's in our nature to do so. But we have changed, and we can change the world, starting with the world in our own heads and hearts. Sorry to go on and on. Thanks for your great encouragement.

Ruth said...

Dear George, my friend, no no. I did not take from your comment that you wished I had not written this, or that it was not my place to! Nor did you cause me any pain. On the contrary, your heartfelt comment simply got me thinking about it some more, in response to you, but not in defense at all, not a bit. I can see that it sounded that way. I stand side-by-side with you, as a member of the deeply wounded who are that way mostly through the deeds done unto others. And just as you have taken on the sorrows of your ancestors, we can take on the sorrows of the world and bear them together. The peace we seek for ourselves, we pray for those far from us. How can it be otherwise, when we are one.

George said...

A small correction: I see that my initial comment referred to Trayvon Williams. I meant Trayvon Martin, the young man who was shot in Sanford County, Florida recently.

Margaret said...

Oh my. Does a mother every really think any war is worthy of her son's life? Perhaps she is proud of his bravery, but I would gladly rather tuck him in my arms, alive.

The bullet ridden wall sent chills down my spine and I really love how you make poetry come alive in the simplest of things:

"I sit
with a ceramic mug in the pinked dawn,
my tongue tucked in its habitual chip."

ds said...

Tears. For bullet holes, Kilmainham, Pearse (his mother, his poem, his wife), the innocents in Afghanistan, the soldier, the trails of tears and famine roads that history seems always to leave in its wake.There is such terrible beauty (yes, that sort) in his poem and your answer. The pinked dawn, "the tongue in its habitual chip"--the world is a cracked cup. When we become mothers do we not become mothers to all? Do we not therefore weep for all, feel joy for all? Yes, thinks me, yes.

Every so often I read that poem by Yeats; yours recalls this:
...our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.

Thank you for your beautiful work. You. Are. So. Damn. Good.

Ginnie said...

It's while living here in Europe, Ruth, that I am so often reminded of war...even if for the wars long past. How many times have I read about or seen the total reconstruction of what was destroyed. Architecture is different than living souls...and yet it's all somehow connected. The stories live in the land and the structures. We are hopefully one with it all!