If Saint Patrick’s Day means celebrating Irish loves and lore, the thing that comes to my mind above all is beauty. The surpassing beauty of the place lives in all its songs and speech, in its rumours of heaven, and in its rich reserves of poetry. There's something miraculous about a country where trouble and tragedy, though long-lived, have never managed to banish beauty or silence the poets, who, in every sense, know their place.
One poet I have learned to love lately is Michael Longley. He's called, like his friend Seamus Heaney, 'a poet of the troubles' - his elegies for the fallen are quietly heart-stopping - but nothing in his work suggests that trouble is the true or abiding state of human life. Rather it's an affront, an uncivilised interruption, to the loveliness of ordinary life and the beauty that is everywhere if we only look.
The place he knows best he's been visiting for nearly half a century, and it has never yet ceased to inspire poetry. This poem, 'The Leveret,' is about his grandson Benjamin visiting for the first time. It delights me not only because it is filled with beauty, and with the miraculous inexhaustibility of a beautiful place, but because I love the idea of the kind of grandfather who would mark the visit of his grandchild by picking wild flowers and writing a poem. Here's a man who knows what life is for, and how to praise the earth's unearthly beauty.
This is your first night in Carrigskeewaun
The Owennadornaun is so full of rain
You arrived in Paddy Morrison's tractor,
A bumpy approach in your father's arms
To the cottage where, all of one year ago,
You were conceived, a fire-seed in the hearth.
Did you hear the wind in the fluffy chimney?
Do you hear the wind tonight, and the rain
And a shore bird calling from the mussel reefs?
Tomorrow I'll introduce you to the sea,
Little hoplite. Have you been missing it?
I'll park your chariot by the otter's rock
And carry you over seaweed to the sea.
There's a tufted duck on David's lake
With her sootfall of hatchlings, pompoms
A day old and already learning to dive.
We may meet the stoat near the erratic
Boulder, a shrew in his mouth, or the merlin
Meadow-pipit-hunting. But don't be afraid.
The leveret breakfasts under the fuschia
Every morning, and we shall be watching.
I have picked wild flowers for you, scabious
And centaury in a jam-jar of water
That will bend and magnify the daylight.
This is your first night in Carrigskeewaun.