Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Offending the Gospels: Thoughts on St. Patrick's Day

I've shared at least one other poem of Cathal Ó Searcaigh on this blog (last St. Patrick's Day in fact), but I'm not sure I've ever given his biography. He's a poet based in Donegal, Ireland, living at the base of Mount Errigal on a farm that has been in his family for over 300 years. It makes me glad to think there are still ties like that left in Ireland, even after a history of struggle and devastation. He writes in Irish, and is seen by many as heir to a tradition of Irish nature poetry. He also happens to be openly gay, and funnily enough this also ties him to the tradition to some extent.

I saw him read the following poem a few years ago, here in New York. In Ceann Dubh Dílís/My Darkhaired Love, Ó Searcaigh has taken a traditional song of the same title and adapted it for his own use. It's not my favorite poem of his, but when he read it here he amused us all by dedicating it to the Ancient Order of Hibernians. For those who don't know, the AOH is the organization that sponsors the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade, and refuses to allow any g/l/b/t groups to march in it under their own banners. One old sweetheart went on record as saying that allowing gay people to march in the St Patrick's Day Parade would be like having Hitler march in a parade for Israel. You might be interested to know that the first St. Patrick's Day parade ever happened here in New York. There are similar celebrations now throughout Ireland, but they're a fairly recent phenomenon, having been inspired by the bacchanals in the States. All the parades in Ireland, by the way, allow l/g/b/t groups to march openly.

I don't actually get too het up about this particular issue, to be honest. I respect people who do (there will be protests and arrests today, as in previous years), but for me it feels like being refused entry to a party I didn't want to go to in the first place. Nonetheless, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I would like to rededicate this poem to the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Ceann Dubh Dílís/My Blackhaired Love
My blackhaired love, my dear, dear, dear,
Our kiss re-opens Christ's wounds here;
But close your mouth, don't spread the word:
We offend the Gospels with our love.
You plague the local belles, my sweet;
They attempt to coax you with deceit
But you prefer my lonely kiss,
You hugging me to bring to bliss.
Lay your head my dear, dear, dear,
Lay your head on my breast here;
I'll close my mouth, no detail break-
I'd deny the Gospels for your sake.
translated by Gabrial Fitzmaurice
I happened to find a video of the poet at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yA0cOu_u6Uw
He was featured at the San Francisco International Poetry Festival. In the video he actually reads three poems, accompanied by a handsome fellow on fiddle, and the middle poem is this one; it should be easy to catch, because he pauses before each poem, and you should be able to catch the word 'dílís (pronounced DEE leesh). Seeing the video I was struck by two things: one, it's interesting to hear how traditional Irish music has influenced and/or been influenced by jazz improvisation: two, hearing Ó Searcaigh recite, I'm reminded of recordings of Yeats reading his own work; I wonder if I'm getting a glimpse of oratorical traditions the latter may have been drawing on.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day, my dears, dears, dears.
(Edit: for some reason, blogger is choosing not to honor the stanza breaks in the poem, despite repeated attempts to put them in. Forgive me, Mr Ó Searcaigh, I really did try.)


Marta said...

patrick: that t-shirt cracks me up! hilarious! my only quibble with the poet is that we may offend paul, and some folks in the hebrew bible, but the gospels? there's nothing in the gospel to be offended by the likes of you and me (well, actually, i'm sure there's plenty about us to offend the gospel, but not that you like to smooch up on boys, and i like to smooch up on girls!)

Greg said...

Quibble duly noted, but still a lovely poem...as befits this lovely post to celebrate the day!

Here's hoping you find the kind of celebrating you'd like best for commemorating the day!

Java said...

I, too, really like that t-shirt image!
Thank you for sharing the poem. It is lovely.

And happy St. Patty's Day to you, my not-red-headed Irish friend.

Eric said...

Love the teeshirt. Happy St. Patrick's Day, My dear, dear, dear Patrick.

Patrick said...

Marta: Yes, it's true, there isn't actually anything in the Gospels about girls kissing girls and boys kissing boys. I wish I knew the song the poet is drawing from; it's possible he's making use of specific lines and images from the original. Those ancient Irish loved to write earthy poems that poked fun at Christian doctrine, and they weren't always that concerned with specific verses. Before the Great Hunger of the
1840s, the peasants in the West were pretty relaxed about religious doctrine. Butch, do you happen to know the original Blackhaired Love?

Greg, Java, Eric: thank you, my dears, I hope the day was similarly festive for you. And Java, I'm getting less red with every hair cut. Sigh.

Birdie said...

The lyrics make me wonder if his blackhaired love is a priest. Paul's writings might be the reference (although it might be incorrectly inferred).

I still love that T-shirt! You can find many versions of it for sale on the interwebs. Happy belated St. Patrick's Day, dear dear dear.

Patrick said...

Birdie: I hadn't considered the possibility the beloved was a priest. It's possible, but then one has to wonder what all the 'belles' are up to, coaxing him 'with deceit.' Thinking further about yours and Marta's comments, I remembered that there is a long tradition in all Celtic cultures of stories where lovers prove the depth of their affection by defying the heavens themselves. If you're willing to risk hell, you must REALLY be in love.
We do like our hyperbole, we Celts.

David said...

if you cut and pasted the poem into Blogger, that might have been the culprit in denying you line breaks. I find if I really have to cut and past something, then I paste it into an email, then cut and paste THAT into Blogger. It still causes minor formatting issues but not early the headache as the original cut and paste.

Having said all that, thanks for the lovely poem and the clever t-shirt.

Patrick said...

I wondered about that, but I actually typed the poem directly into blogger, no cutting or pasting involved at all. When I was briefly using Opera instead of IE, blogger did NOT care for that. All my entries at that time look like they're trying to be free verse. There was no pattern (I almost said 'rhyme or reason') to the line breaks, they had nothing to do with anything I was writing. That all cleared up when I returned to IE though. In this entry blogger has honored some of the spaces I put between paragraphs, and ignored others. Its ways are a mystery to me.