A meditation in poetry

Inishfree

The isle of Innisfree is a small islet that lies on Lough Gill in County Sligo.

Featured in the NY Times this week in the attached article, where Russell Shorto found “The opposite of a tourist site”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/travel/in-ireland-chasing-the-wandering-soul-of-yeats.html?_r=0

The poem was voted the all time favourite work of Irish poetry by the liars who read the Irish Times.  I bet that not half of them could recite the second line!

The Lake Isle of Innisfree : by W. B. Yeats
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Enid Blython Summers

Five go mad in Dorset (Comedy Club Presents)

fivepicnic

Here is a poem that neatly sums up how I spent most of my summers in Ireland in my teen years.

Cycling around North County Dublin and up to Cloherhead with my brothers Rory and Cormac.

Cycling to Aughavanagh in County Wicklow with all my brothers and sisters, a long trek that takes you through South Dublin to Kilmacanogue which is unpronounceable to the uninitiated , up the mountains to the Calary filling station at the Sugar Loaf, on to Roundwood, beyond Glendalough and deep into the Wicklow Mountains.

Touring Melifont, Slane, Monasterboice, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth with my cousin Stephen.

Cycling to Foulksrath Castle in Kilkenny and back through Wicklow on my own apart from a couple of companions along the way.

Cycling to Crossmolina in Mayo to meet John Dermody and then round Sligo where Yeats is buried, north to Donegal and out to Aranmore Island, though Derry on into Antrim with the Causeway coast, Belfast,Down and back to Dublin again on my own except for those I met on the journey.

Cycling from Dublin to Rossbeigh Strand in Kerry to meet my family who were camping down there.  Cheating by getting the train back.

All very Enid Blython stuff, good healthy outdoor exercise, piles of buttered toast, lashings of hot buttered scones and bottles of ice cold soda pop.  Only we called soda pop “minerals”.  All praise to An Oige and the Youth Hostel Association who were such an encouragement and support to the outdoor adventures of my youth.

Chrysalides; by Thomas Kinsella

Our last free summer we mooned about at odd hours
Pedalling slowly through country towns, stopping to eat
Chocolate and fruit, tracing our vagaries on the map.

At night we watched in the barn, to the lurch of melodeon music,
The crunching boots of countrymen — huge and weightless
As their shadows — twirling and leaping over the yellow concrete.

Sleeping too little or too much, we awoke at noon
And were received with womanly mockery into the kitchen,
Like calves poking our faces in with enormous hunger.

Daily we strapped our saddlebags and went to experience
A tolerance we shall never know again, confusing
For the last time, for example, the licit and the familiar.

Our instincts blurred with change; a strange wakefulness
Sapped our energies and dulled our slow-beating hearts
To the extremes of feeling; insensitive alike

To the unique succession of our youthful midnights,
When by a window ablaze softly with the virgin moon
Dry scones and jugs of milk awaited us in the dark,

Or to lasting horror: a wedding flight of ants
Spawning to its death, a mute perspiration
Glistening like drops of copper, agonized, in our path.

À la recherche du temps perdu*

Madeleine

Involuntary memory is the serendipitous recollection of past events through an unexpected stimulus.  In Proust’s novel* it is famously the eating of a Madeline dipped in tea which triggers the protagonist’s memory.

Current thinking on the structure of the brain is that it operates somewhat like a watershed.  Instead of rain falling on hills, carving a stream which becomes a river and flows to a meeting with the sea, we have a set of stimuli which react in the brain, following established links and connections to come to a certain conclusion.

When we have a particularly happy event, our levels of neurotransmitters are high.  Patterns are laid down by Dopamine, Seratonin and Norepinephrine in our brain.  These patterns are associated with a pleasurable experience (or sometimes with a traumatic one).

The patterns act like the watershed of a river.  A little rain falls on one side of a hill in County Cavan, and it will flow to the sea via the Shannon River.  With a small gust of wind that rain falls on the other side of the hill.  The water will enter Lough Erne and reach the sea at Sligo bay.  Once the watershed is established that rain can go nowhere else but down the established flow.

In the same way the smell of cookies in the oven may trigger memories of your grandmother.  A particular floor polish smell may bring back the memory of visiting your father at work.  A certain taste combination may open up a memory of a very special night of moonlight and romance.  One neurotransmitter sets off another and another in sequence until the memory is fully formed.

Involuntary memory is as good as it gets!

Sonnet XXX; by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.