It’s St Patrick’s Day, an event celebrated all over the world in memory of the Patron Saint of Ireland (who incidentally was born in Scotland so there’s a very valid excuse to celebrate across the water too!).
Whilst celebration, friendship, kinship and a few glasses of Guinness are on the menu for a lot of people today I hope we also find the time to revel in beautiful words. The nation of Ireland’s powerful association with literature is incredibly encompassing and in celebration of this I hope you enjoy this stay with you forever poem by the brilliant, brilliant Paula Meehan.
Here’s the incredible “The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks”. It’s a heartbreaking poem, written in response to the death of fifteen year old Ann Lovett and her baby son. She gave birth, secretly, at the hillside grotto on the outskirts of Granard town in Co. Longford on the 31st of January 1984. It is tragic and harrowing that this young girl should feel so incredibly alone at this time.
Paula’s poem though ensures that their memory lives on.
The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks
by Paula Meehan
It can be bitter here at times like this,
November wind sweeping across the border.
Its seeds of ice would cut you to the quick.
The whole town tucked up safe and dreaming,
even wild things gone to earth, and I
stuck up here in this grotto, without as much as
star or planet to ease my vigil.
The howling won’t let up. Trees
cavort in agony as if they would be free
and take off — ghost voyagers
on the wind that carries intimations
of garrison towns, walled cities, ghetto lanes
where men hunt each other and invoke
the various names of God as blessing
on their death tactics, their night manoeuvres.
Closer to home the wind sails over
dying lakes. I hear fish drowning.
I taste the stagnant water mingled
with turf smoke from outlying farms.
They call me Mary — Blessed, Holy, Virgin.
They fit me to a myth of a man crucified:
the scourging and the falling, and the falling again,
the thorny crown, the hammer blow of iron
into wrist and ankle, the sacred bleeding heart.
They name me Mother of all this grief
though mated to no mortal man.
They kneel before me and their prayers
fly up like sparks from a bonfire
that blaze a moment, then wink out.
It can be lovely here at times. Springtime,
early summer. Girls in Communion frocks
pale rivals to the riot in the hedgerows
of cow parsley and haw blossom, the perfume
from every rushy acre that’s left for hay
when the light swings longer with the sun’s push north.
Or the grace of a midsummer wedding
when the earth herself calls out for coupling
and I would break loose of my stony robes,
pure blue, pure white, as if they had robbed
a child’s sky for their colour. My being
cries out to be incarnate, incarnate,
maculate and tousled in a honeyed bed.
Even an autumn burial can work its own pageantry.
The hedges heavy with the burden of fruiting
crab, sloe, berry, hip; clouds scud east
pear scented, windfalls secret in long
orchard grasses, and some old soul is lowered
to his kin. Death is just another harvest
scripted to the season’s play.
But on this All Souls’ Night there is
no respite from the keening of the wind.
I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.
On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,
and she lay down alone at my feet
without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand
and she pushed her secret out into the night,
far from the town tucked up in little scandals,
bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,
and though she cried out to me in extremis
I did not move,
I didn’t lift a finger to help her,
I didn’t intercede with heaven,
nor whisper the charmed word in God’s ear.
On a night like this I number the days to the solstice
and the turn back to the light.
centre of our foolish dance,
burning heart of stone,
molten mother of us all,
hear me and have pity.
From Mysteries of the Home (2013) reproduced by kind permission of Paula Meehan and Dedalus Press. http://www.dedaluspress.com