Groundhog eve

Spring

Guess what just sprung?

Yes it is Feb 1st, Feast of Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Fertility, or St Brigid if you are a Christian revisionist.  Celtic festival of Imbolc, thought to drive from “i mBolg” which means “in the belly” where all the spring lambs, calves and babies are.

Outside my window I hear a colt nickering in the field next door, full of the joys of the burgeoning summer.

Spring And All: by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital

under the surge of the blue

mottled clouds driven from the

northeast —

a cold wind. Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

 

patches of standing water

the scattering of tall trees

 

All along the road the reddish

purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy

stuff of bushes and small trees

with dead, brown leaves under them

leafless vines —

 

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches —

 

They enter the new world naked,

cold, uncertain of all

save that they enter. All about them

the cold, familiar wind —

 

Now the grass, tomorrow

the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined —

 

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

 

But now the stark dignity of
entrance —

Still, the profound change

has come upon them: rooted they

grip down and begin to awaken

Happy Birthday Claude McKay

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A Jamaican poet who came to the USA to be educated, McKay was horrified by the racism prevalent in the United States.  He became one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s and his work is passionately pro-negro, anti-racist and yet a man of contradictions.

Early in his life he embraced atheism and communism, possibly courted by the potential for the equality of his race in the new order sweeping the world.  Ultimately he became disillusioned with communism and became a critic.  In his later years he became a Roman Catholic.

He was also appalled by the presentation of negroes as a hypersexual threat in Europe.  He denounced racist articles in the British Press in 1920.  European avant-garde  art at the time had a fascination with African primitive art and representations of fertility and sexuality.  Picasso famously incorporated African masks in Les Demoiselles D’Avignon in 1907. McKay himself posed for André Lhote and later wrote about the experience in terms of the relationship of the European white supremacist and the oppressed Afro-Caribbean.  Yet when he wrote of the Harlem Renaissance he was criticized by his contemporaries for reinforcing racial stereotypes by depicting the culture of drugs, alcohol, sexuality and prostitution in the dark underbelly of the movement.

What is clear from his body of work is that he was a passionate and motivated campaigner for the rights of black people.  He promoted “Black Lives Matter” long before most black people were socially or politically aware.

In 1977 the Jamaican Government named McKay as the national poet.

Enslaved: by Claude McKay

Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,
For weary centuries despised, oppressed,
Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place
In the great life line of the Christian West;
And in the Black Land disinherited,
Robbed in the ancient country of its birth,
My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,
For this my race that has no home on earth.
Then from the dark depths of my soul I cry
To the avenging angel to consume
The white man’s world of wonders utterly:
Let it be swallowed up in earth’s vast womb,
Or upward roll as sacrificial smoke
To liberate my people from its yoke!

 

Lá Fhéile Bríde

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Imbolc, the festival of Brigit, Goddess of ancient Ireland.  She ruled over the Spring, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft.  As Goddess of Poetry she has pride of place on this site.  Officially Imbolc is a cross quarter day, one of the four great festivals of the Celtic calendar.  It lies between Winter solstice and Spring equinox.

The title of this post is in Irish Gaelic.  It means “Day Feast Brigit” (Brigit’s Feast Day)

Along with Hallowe’en it was found to be a sticky holiday with the Irish.  Very tricky for the Christian church to get rid of.  So they subsumed it.  They changed Brigit, the Goddess, into Saint Bridget.  This year the Christian feast is Feb 1st and Imbolc is Feb 3rd.  Choose your poison, or celebrate both.

Just to fill up the agenda this year, Groundhog day lies in between!  Welcome to Spring if you live in Ireland.  If you live in the USA you need to hear from the furry rat.

Spring: by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

May your day be great

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I thinkMay is my favourite month.  May is the month when the protagonist in “The Rocky Road to Dublin” sets off on his adventure.  In the more plaintive poem & song “On Raglan Road” the poet harks back to heady May days from his advanced position at the closing of the years of his life.

Apples blossom and the first food plants are emerging from the soil, bearing a promise of plenty.  The lambs and calves are born and there is new life and new energy everywhere.  The sun shines longer and we begin to get some real heat into the days.

This outpouring of new life reflected itself in times past in pagan May Day fertility rites, with lusty lads and lithe lassies cavorting about Maypoles.  Communal spring dancing is a feature of societies all across Europe.  They provided a reason for people to get out and about and for young adults to meet up and form couples.  The heavy spring work of ploughing and planting is done and there is an opportunity to celebrate and let the hair down before the haymaking begins.

A modern revision of these ancient rites is now re-enacted in the USA every year.  Not many young Americans are involved in ploughing and planting these days.  Instead they plough the library stacks and plant ideas onto college papers.  The date of the fertility rites has moved slightly, for reasons of academic planning, but the intent is the same.  Gangs of young adult men and women meet up to cavort every year at Spring Break.

Young adults always think their generation is new, exciting, dynamic and different, but in truth they follow very well worn paths.

 On Raglan Road; by Patrick Kavanagh

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew

That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;

I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,

And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge

Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge,

The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay –

O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known

To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone

And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.

With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now

Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow

That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay –

When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.