(Vintage Postcard from Ireland)
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This is always a special day for me – a day to think about my Irish ancestors and to re-read the works of the Irish poets I love most. The earliest surviving poems in Irish date to the sixth century, and Ireland has produced many poets including Lathóg of Tír Chonaill, Thomas Kinsella, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Muldoon, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Mary O’Donoghue, Elaine Feeney, and Noelle Vial. Below are some poems by a few (just a few!) of my favorite Irish poets.
Bain sult as (enjoy)!
A number of years ago, I spent three weeks in Ireland. That trip was a kind of going home – not for myself but for my great grandfather Patrick Kenny who brought my family to America in 1889 and for my dad who never got to Ireland. Ancestors, family, and homeland are traditional and recurrent themes in Irish poetry. We went green in an earlier prompt, so this week let’s adopt an Irish-type theme and write poems about our various ancestries, our different nationalities, our people – our “roots.”
1. Write a poem about the country from which your ancestors came.
2. Write a poem about your ancestors.
3. Perhaps you’ve come to this country from another. Write a poem about making the decision to leave the country of your birth and to settle in a new country. Or, write a poem about your homeland.
4. Write a ballad about one of your ancestors (or a current family member).
5. Alternatively, you just might want to write a poem about St. Patrick, shamrocks, Guinness, Irish Wolf Hounds, or something else that’s wonderfully Irish, whether you’re Irish or not!
In a spirit of sharing, here’s an excerpt edited from an early version of the title poem from Chosen Ghosts:
A chattering wind brings down the leaves,
remnants of bagworm and chestnut lie in the tangle.
Moonlight falls in fractions through dead bindweed,
on milkweed pods that crack open and float away.
Always in autumn, when the backyard thins and
the brittleness starts, I go back to my griefs.
I bury the last chrysanthemums and wish it was still
summer when the sky traveled in a thousand directions
at once or years ago when every season was spring
with its risings and promise. But now, here and now,
in the whirl of this brief, sad season, I call my ghosts
home and gather them around me. Like the flock of
geese that sleeps in an open field near the river, they rise
in a rush of wings that remembers the victory of flight.
Where does it begin? A wandering Celt follows the sun
to a green island and turns his painted face away from
the pagan gods. An Irish farmer digs a harvest of black
moons and surrenders his plow to a coffin ship, weeks
of pitching in the dark hold, a sea-wrack of salt and tar.
My grandfathers, immigrant spirits. They enter my house
and stand together on the stairway. My father, still in
uniform, walks in from the cold and holds my mother’s
hand as if nothing were changed. The others arrive –
family and friends – the company of Heaven. They all
turn toward me and raise their glasses in a toast. These
are my ghosts – the invited, the chosen – a party of souls.
Life, liquid and thick, leaps in their wrists. I touch
their cheeks with gentle fingers, brush stray hairs from
their foreheads – remembering, remembering,
as I kiss the dust from their lips.
And ... A Little Irish Slideshow That I Made to Celebrate the Day