Poem of the Month, Poetry

Poem of the Month – The Journey, by Mary Oliver

I’ve just created this new regular feature for 2019, after re-reading some of my favourite poems; it occurred to me that I’d discovered many of them by browsing around online on all sorts of sites, literary and otherwise. Some of these poems have become touchstones in my life,  and I revisit them regularly to refresh my dry and jaded sensibilities, or maybe my thirsting goals.

So I want to pass on some of these favourites, in the hopes that you, constant reader, will discover a new gem of your own.

So to kick us off, I’ve chosen a poem by Mary Oliver, who isn’t exactly an obscure name; she’s one of America’s best-selling poets, and you can find many a quote from her works on Pinterest and Instagram, but I discovered her only a few years ago.

Her style is accessible; it’s not “clever”, full of obtuse words and hard-to-follow metre, but for all its simplicity, her poems, through their worship of nature, give us access to what is fundamental, divine and even sacred in our lives, or perhaps, what should be if it isn’t already.

Having said all of the above, the poem I’ve chosen to start this new series isn’t really an essay on the essence of nature, or at least, not on the surface level. The journey that Mary Oliver speaks of isn’t one perhaps that we all need to undertake; for those who do, however, it is fraught, perilous and painful.

The seeds of my own journey can be found strewn throughout the budding family dynamics described in And The Buntings Flew, but as this is still a work in progress, perhaps I should just state here that I have had to undertake a journey of my own, perhaps several, although it took me many years in some instances to step out the door and start my journey of a thousand miles.


THE JOURNEY

BY MARY OLIVER

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Folklore and History, Food, Travel

Happy Nollaig na mBan, 12th Night, Epiphany 2019!

We took down the last of our Christmas decorations today, as we always do on the 6th January, or the Epiphany; it’s a tradition carried on from my own mother, who insisted almost fearfully that every last scrap of tinsel and turkey must begone by this date, or a calamitous year of bad luck would lie ahead.

I recall as a very young child the decorations coming down and then a visit to one of my mother’s friends for a cup of tea and maybe something light to eat; a cake maybe, or biscuits.

It wasn’t until much later that I recognized this as a hangover from the old Irish tradition of Nollaig na mBan, or  Little Christmas/Women’s Christmas, which is seeing something of a resurgence in the Republic of Ireland, and which my mother’s family may have observed as Catholics.

Nollaig na mBan (pronounced something like “Null-ag na Mon”) marks not only the end of the 12 days of Christmas, the Epiphany, and the deadline for many for the removal of Christmas frippery, but also the day when hard-working Irish wives and mothers would be granted a much-needed break after feeding their large families throughout the Christmas period. Menfolk and children would pick up the reins for this day, while their women met for a break, a breather, a natter and maybe something to eat.

I’d like to state that this was an outdated notion by the time of my childhood (1970s), but alas the tradition, if not the name of the day, was still in full force in most of the families we knew.

Coincidentally my husband prepared Sunday lunch today as I untangled the garden lights and nodding reindeers, once more retired to the garage for eleven months or so, but I’m glad to say that this was a coincidence; I no longer have to slave until the first week in January to get parity of workload around the house for a single day.

So as I boil the kettle for a refreshing cup of Punjana, I wish mammies around the world, Irish or otherwise, a happy Nollaig na mBan, while simultaneously hoping devoutly that it’s just a symbolic break for them, and that the division of labour is more enlightened in their families. img_2246