I think it was the rich simplicity of the poet’s life that struck me. Here is the Introduction to the poem that I wrote –you can read that for yourself. And I plan to post the whole poem here, probably tomorrow….
In this fascinating poem, written in Ireland –in Irish– about 1500 A.D., we get a unique glimpse into the interior life of a civilized man. We sense that he lives in or near a city or a town. He is anonymous: we know nothing about him. But in a far more profound sense –thanks to his poem– we know a great deal.
Having lost some dear friends, the man turns to his possessions for consolation. These, note, are not the acquisitions of modern consumerism, but are related to his interior life. He calls for a book. The printing press is still quite new: it seems more likely that the book is a handmade calligraphed book, perhaps his own version of the old Irish family books. He appreciates the binding, “Clean smooth pages, firmly stitched together.” He calls for his pencase: pens are exciting. He is a poet. He is a calligrapher: his writing is “well-lettered, jet-black, ordered.”
He wants his book of poems, “in noble classic Gaelic.” He is interested in history, genealogy. His arithmetic book will help him enumerate the stars, and the days since the deluge.” (A contemporary preoccupation, seemingly: Bishop Ussher of Dublin was famous for enumerating the precise date of Creation (4004 B.C. –on, if memory serves, October 6th, at 2 p.m.)”
[Comment: Was God busy in the morning? Perhaps a round of Golf? Solo –of course!]
” On his “beautifully crafted” harp, his “gladsome lyre,” he plays “sparkling tunes…my heart swells.” He probably sings his poems. He admires his sword and dagger. He “thrice sharpens” them: we wonder how necessary they were. His chessboard delights him. He likes to win. And he has seen many “new dawns” playing dice.
Though he is sad, there is in the poem an air of activity and enthusiasm, and a warm humanism. He makes us feel, for all our globalized advances and invention and comforts, that our civilization has somehow become diminished. After all, his was the century of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Erasmus, Gutenberg, the Aldine Press, Galileo, Columbus, Copernicus, Rabelais! We seem to have a built-in conceit: with us it is ever “onward and upward.” Regardless of what we actually do, tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
Would our poet agree with us? How confident are we?”
[End of Introduction: Tomorrow I will post some or all of the poem. You may if you wish purchase it (it costs ten dollars) on this website, but –recessions being what they are, at least you have the CONSOLATION of being able to read it here free of charge.
Incidentally, I think that “Consolations” was the last book that I published before Nine.Eleven –I found it remarkable how much our “sense of things” has changed since that particular “End of the World” .
I am of course interested in your comments. And let me throw out a question to you: ” Our 15th C. friend gathers his beloved objects –his consolations– to him: Books of poetry, arithmetic, genealogy; his pens, his harp, his sword & dagger, his chessboard, his dice. In 2010, what equivalent objects, what “consolations” would we gather to us?”]