Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In awe of the gift...

Behold, readers, I give you a great mystery... a miracle of sorts, really. I stand in awe of the gift that so very few people have, to take ordinary everyday experience and somehow filter it through their own tools of imagination, language and cadence to create something... transcendent, sublime. Very concrete and specific in its details, but universal in its meanings and resonances.

Seamus Heaney is, without question, one of those rare masters. Look what he does here with a simple childhood memory. I heard him read this brief poem in an audio interview recently, and was just amazed by it... how he could take something so simple and transform it into something so beautiful and profound. He explained before reading it that his childhood home (in County Derry, Northern Ireland) was very near to a train track which were lined with telegraph wires. As kids they would climb up the grassy hills and look at the wires following down the tracks, towards the horizon. They thought the messages moving through the lines were carried within the raindrops they'd see attached to those wires. That is all you need to know.

The Railway Children

When we climbed the slopes of the cutting
We were eye-level with the white cups
Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.

Like lovely freehand they curved for miles
East and miles west beyond us, sagging
Under their burden of swallows.

We were small and thought we knew nothing
Worth knowing. We thought words travelled the wires
In the shiny pouches of raindrops,

Each one seeded full with the light
Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves
So infinitesmally scaled

We could stream through the eye of a needle.

That ending literally gave me goosebumps when I heard it - especially since it evokes, as anyone raised in a Catholic or Christian household will recognize, thoughts of the Kingdom that lies on the other side of that "eye" according to some very famous words from a very famous man... and with that one little hint, Heaney opens up a portal to another plane. He takes us to "the spirit level." To be able to do that with mere words is simply a marvel. I have no idea how it works, but when I hear something like that and feel its impact in the heart like some kind of pointed shaft, I'm just grateful to know that it does.

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