Posts Tagged ‘Cad Coddeu’

“It’s Strange To Be Here. The Mystery Never Leaves You.” And the addition of a Welsh poem: “Cad Caddeu” (The Battle of the Trees)

October 12, 2018
My beautiful picture

Watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2015

 

Contemplating a new novel, I came across this essay I wrote a few years ago.  There is mystery in life and writing and just everyday events.  Perhaps this mystery is what makes us put each foot in front of the other.  Perhaps this mystery is the seed of our gratitude.

Lady Nyo

 

“It’s Strange To Be Here. The Mystery Never Leaves You.”

Many are familiar with John O’Donohue, the Irish Poet/Priest/Philosopher.  I wasn’t and didn’t hear of him until well after his death in January, 2008 at the age of 52.  Coming upon him so late I realize what a marvelous voice has been stilled, but he did write a lot and spoke around the world.  These writings and interviews are what we have left of this remarkable man, but they speak of deep and important issues of the heart.  What I have cobbled together is partly from an NPR interview of a while ago and other readings of his works.  His words speak deeply to my own lack of faith, lack of any religious belief except certain Shinto elements and a yearning for answers about the visible life around us and the possible connections to the invisible world we contemplate. I am also rethinking O’Donohue’s words in light of the issue of familial narcissism and what it wrought for a family. It is a daily exercise that makes visible that is, at one point, carefully covered over. Then no appeal to religion or civility can abate the wounding. The fruit of a very poisonous tree.

As a poet, what O’Donohue says about poetry went deep and broad for me.

O’Donohue’s words are in bold type, mine are in italics.

Lady Nyo

 

The more I’ve been thinking about this, the more it seems to me actually is that the visible world is the first shoreline of the invisible world. And the same way I believe with the body and the soul. That actually the soul — the body is in the soul, not the soul just in the body. And that in some way the poignancy of being a human being is that you are the place where the invisible becomes visible and expressive in some way.

This is a radical concept to my thinking…that the visible world is the first shoreline of the invisible world.  But reading Celtic novels, especially something extended like “Mists of Avalon” certainly has this factor in the mix.  Further, this statement:  That the soul- the body is in the soul, not just in the body, makes sense if you follow Celtic Christianity.

Ireland was an important crucible of Celtic Christianity, merging a strong sense of mystery and transcendence with a passionate embrace of nature, the body, and the senses. The divine is understood as manifest as everywhere in everything. Perhaps this is best described as ‘animism’, or the belief of  the soul or spirit in natural things, like rocks, trees, mountains, thunder, etc…not just residing in the human.  For me, beyond this Celtic Christianity concept, I find it also resides in the Japanese Shinto religion and general mythology in the form of “kami’ or spirits residing in the same natural elements.

“Landscape” is a pivotal word, a defining feature of inner life as well as the outer physical world.  For a while now, I have used this word, “landscape” in my own definition of thoughts of characters:  however, his usage is much broader and more encompassing.

I think it makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house. Whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you but in a totally different form. And if you go towards it with an open heart and a real watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you. And I think that was one of the recognitions of the Celtic imagination: that landscape wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive. What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time.

But I do think though that it’s not just a matter of the outer presence of the landscape. I mean, the dawn goes up and the twilight comes even in the most roughest inner-city place. And I think that connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe that’s there. And I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence — even through memory or imagination — can be brought inward as a sustaining thing. I mean, I think that — and it’s the question of beauty you’re asking essentially. I mean, I think that as we are speaking, that there are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they are able to sustain it, because there is in them some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to in some way. I love Pascal’s phrase, you know, that you should always “keep something beautiful in your mind.” And I have often — like in times when it’s been really difficult for me, if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at now and again, you can endure great bleakness.

Enduring great bleakness.  I think he is talking about an existence we all face in different and daily ways.  I see this as the physical environment surrounding us, those places where we fear the most, see with great trepidation, but also those deep emotional places where we have been wounded. These “keep something beautiful in your mind” allows us to survive those onslaughts.  I believe this is part and parcel of being a writer: we have a world of words to fashion for a particular ‘comfort’ and defense.

O’Donohue said these words that seem to be the meat of the argument…at least to me.

“It’s strange to be here: the mystery never leaves you”.  M. Scott Peck also said something that resonates this concept:  “Life is strange”.

When you think about language and you think about consciousness, it’s just incredible to think that we can make any sounds that can reach over across to each other at all. Because I mean, I think we’re — I think the beauty of being human is that we’re incredibly, intimately near each other. We know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person. And it’s amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that’s the mystery of poetry, you know, is poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as it’s emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth.

“Thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel”.  Rather complex but astoundingly simple, too.  I especially like these words about poetry, because I struggle to be a poet…or actually, the poet in me…that invisible thing makes struggle to manifest into the visible, i.e.: words, poetry. But more, poetry IS the mystery, or a part of the mystery, and makes it manifest.

And the mystery is also the Divine.  Perhaps this is why the Divine is and remains a mystery because of so many aspects, faces.  It remains a mystery because we can never know it all.

An ancient archetypal poem, the “Song of Amergin” illustrates the Celtic sense of a symbiotic and seamless relationship between the natural and the divine.

“I am the wind on the sea. / I am the ocean wave. / I am the sound of the billows. / I am the seven-horned stag. / I am the hawk on the cliff. / I am the dewdrop in sunlight. / I am the fairest of flowers. / I am the raging boar. / I am the salmon in the deep pool. / I am the lake on the plain. / I am the meaning of the poem. / I am the point of the spear. / I am the god that makes fire in the head. / Who levels the mountain? / Who speaks the age of the moon? / Who has been where the sun sleeps? / Who, if not I?”

O’Donohue also writes that ‘everyone is an artist’.

I mean that everyone is involved whether they like it or not in the construction of their world. So, it’s never as given as it actually looks; you are always shaping it and building it. And I feel that from that perspective, that each of us is an artist. Secondly, I believe that everyone has imagination. That no matter how mature and adult and sophisticated a person might seem, that person is still essentially an ex-baby. And as children we all lived in an imaginal world. You know, when you’ve been told don’t cross that wall, ’cause there’s monsters over there, my god, the world you’d create on the other side of the wall.

When you’d ask questions like why is the sky blue or where does God live or you know all this kind of stuff. Like, one of the first times I was coming to America, I said to my little niece, who was seven, I said, ‘What will I bring you from America?’ She said, ‘Uhhhhh.’ And her father said, ‘No, ask him or you won’t get anything.’ And Katy turned to me and said, ‘What’s in it?’ Which I thought was a great question about America. So that childlike thing. And secondly, like that, every night when we sleep we dream, and a dream is a sophisticated, imaginative text full of figures and drama that we send to ourselves. So I believe that deep in the heart of each of us, there is this imagining, imaginal capacity that we have. So that we are all doing it.

I have to stop this entry because it could go on too long, and it’s a lot to take in, John O’Donohue’s words. Another time I will continue this, extend this, his fascinating words because there is much in them,  and for me, it makes some very definite links: it explains some mystery that pulls on the heart and mind, regardless our religious or spiritual or philosophical beliefs.

There is a poem, the famous Cad Coddeu, (The Battle of the Trees) I believe Welsh, that I came across years ago when I first started to write a novel called “Devil’s Revenge”  It is about the calling into battle of the trees, and it remains one of my favorites. The Battle of the Trees is a poem from the Book of Taliesin in which the legendary enchanter Gwydion animates the trees of the forest to fight as his army. In a loose fashion, it illustrates some of this concept that O’Donohue is talking about:  the soul residing in all natural phenomena , the animating force of life.  What is especially delightful about this poem is the calling out of the individual qualities of each of the species.  Anyone a bit familiar with trees will recognize these qualities of the different ‘woods’.

Lady Nyo

Cad Coddeu

The tops of the beech tree have sprouted of late,

Are changed and renewed from their withered state.

When the beech prospers, though spells and litanies

The oak tops entangle, there is hope for trees.

I have plundered the fern, through all secrets I spy,

Old Math ap Mathonwy knew no more than I.

For with nine sorts of faculty God has gifted me,

I am fruit of fruits gathered from nine sorts of tree–

Plum, quince, whortle, mulberry, raspberry, pear,

Black cherry and white, with the sorb in me share.

From my seat at Fefynedd, a city that is strong,

I watched the trees and green things hastening along.

Retreating from happiness they would fein be set

In forms of the chief letters of the alphabet.

Wayfarers wandered, warriors were dismayed

At renewal of conflicts such as Gwydion made;

Under the tongue root a fight most dread,

And another raging, behind, in the head.

The alders in the front line began the affray.

Willow and rowan-tree were tardy in array.

The holly, dark green, made a resolute stand;

He is armed with many spear-points wounding the hand.

With foot-beat of the swift oak heaven and earth rung;

“Stout Guardian of the Door”, his name in every tongue.

Great was the gorse in battle, and the ivy at his prime;

The hazel was arbiter at this charmed time.

Uncouth and savage was the fir, cruel the ash tree–

Turns not aside a foot-breadth, straight at the heart runs he.

The birch, though very noble, armed himself but late:

A sign not of cowardice but of high estate.

The heath gave consolation to the toil-spent folk,

The long-enduring poplars in battle much broke.

Some of them were cast away on the field of fight

Because of holes torn in them by the enemy’s might.

Very wrathful was the vine whose henchmen are the elms;

I exalt him mightily to rulers of realms.

Strong chieftains were the blackthorn with his ill fruit,

The unbeloved whitethorn who wears the same suit.

The swift-pursuing reed, the broom with his brood,

And the furse but ill-behaved until he is subdued.

The dower-scattering yew stood glum at the fight’s fringe,

With the elder slow to burn amid fires that singe.

And the blessed wild apple laughing in pride

From the Gorchan of Maeldrew, by the rock side.

In shelter linger privet and woodbine,

Inexperienced in warfare, and the courtly pine.

But I, although slighted because I was not big,

Fought, trees, in your array on the field of Goddeu Brig.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“Devil’s Revenge”, Chapter 26

February 24, 2016

The-Morrigan-1499_l_454551dc7075ef7b

This chapter reveals a change in the direction of the novel, or, hopefully, a deepening of the theme.  What Bess finds out in her research in the library points to Celtic mythology, history, etc.  This chapter won’t interest readers who have no interest or knowledge in Celtic mythology, but those who do, and stick with this, will find some good, historic  Celtic poetry entwined. JKB.

Madame Gormosy has made herself scarce. This is welcome because I can spend just so many hours playing faro and waving a fan. The Demon disappears behind his books during the day, and frequently leaves the house, to return by dusk. I am left to myself, and fill my hours with trying to finish the novel, the event that brought me to this place.

We have an unspoken agreement. I will not trespass on his time with his books, and he will not bother me when I am writing. I now see that regardless how I end the book, things have spiraled out of control, and there are forces at work far beyond what I have imagined.

 

This dream of Cernunnos bothers me for more than what is obvious. Perhaps this ‘fancy’ was not so random. Perhaps it has a deeper meaning, unrevealed, and it was ‘placed’ there by some unknown force, hopefully leading somewhere. Although the Demon claims control, I think he is unaware of what it portends.

Madame is a tricky devil. She claims the demon comes from a royal line, and is no common demon. I have called him a ‘demon’ because I have no other way to define him, my knowledge of mythology scant. Of course, magic confuses the picture, and devils are known for their trickery. Perhaps that is the seat of the confusion

As the Demon left the house, I went into the library and looked for some clues. There are enough books, all of them old. I thought about the libraries at Alexandria, destroyed by barbarian hordes. There, surely, with the combined knowledge and wisdom of Persian and so many cultures, would be the answers I seek. But that is dust and this is just dusty, and I am left to find what answers I can.

As I removed books from a high shelf over my head, one large book was unbalanced, and fell at my fo0t.  It was of Celtic Mythology. I was not one who was superstitious, but this seemed as good a place as any to start.   The dream of Cernunnos ran parallel to this book in my hand. Upon opening it, the first words I read expressed a dichotomy that was alive in my present life.

 

“It seems to Bran a wondrous beauty

In his curragh on a clear sea

While to me in my chariot from afar

It is a flowery plain on which I ride 

What is a clear sea

For the prowed craft in which Bran is,

Is a Plain of Delights with profusion of flowers

For me in my two-wheeled chariot

Bran sees

A host of waves breaking across a clear sea

I myself see in Magh Mon

Red-tipped flowers without blemish 

Sea-horses glisten in the summer

As far as Bran’s eye can stretch

Flowers pour forth a stream of honey

In the land of Manannan son of Ler

Speckled salmon leap forth from the womb

Of the white sea upon which you look;

They are calves, bright-coloured lambs

At peace, without mutual hostility

 

It is along the top of a wood

That your tiny craft has sailed along the ridges,

A beautiful wood with its harvest of fruit,

Under the prow of your tiny boat.”

 

Here is my confusion. Here is an answer, though only a piece of it. The Demon and I came from separate worlds, but now occupy the same. He floated through mine, and I stepped into his. This poem was spoken by the Otherworldly Manannan, attempting to explain to the mortal Bran how their differences in perception lie at the root of their divergent realities.

This spoke to the bafflement that ran through our life together. This spoke to my frustration.

As I read on, I began to understand the symbolism of the dream, as it was reflected in the world of the Celts. The natural world surrounded these people on all sides. They were aware of its presence and their dependence on its balance and fertility for their basic nurture and comfort.   Nothing bypassed this dependence, whether the soil, their crops or the animals. The hunters went out to the forest, to bring food for their families. The wolves and bears stalked the settlements for their own. Nature, in fang and claw, in blood and gore, would have shaped days and nights and filled dreams. It would have seeped into every hope and fear. The satyrs were symbols of the fusion of humankind and animals, and part of the magic and religious system that they carried in belief. And Cernunnos? He was the embodiment of the fertility that was necessary for the seasons to turn and mankind and all else to survive. I was, in that dream, very much part of that ritual of life. I could have been a vessel for that seed, from Cernunnos’ loins, planted into the soil, to be fruitful and nourish new life.

Image result for cernunnos

There was much more of this same theme as I read on. The foundation, the building stones of what I was reading, and this Celtic culture, was called animistic thinking.   I came across a dramatic example of this in the poem Cad Coddeu, or “The Battle of the Trees”. A mythical battle between two forces, one mortal against the forces of the chthonic deities, dwelling beneath the earth, where a wizard Gwyddion transformed a forest of trees into a writhing, hostile army.

 

“…Alder, pre-eminant in lineage, attacked first

     Willow and rowan were late to the battle

   Thorny plum greedy for slaughter,

   Powerful dogwood, resisting prince….

…Swift and mighty oak, before him trembled heaven and earth…”

Perhaps the Demon, though, at times I could no longer think of him such, would call forth a similar army.

This was a time, a period, and a culture, where shape-shifting was part of it all. It was part of the ‘DNA’ if you will, of a culture remembering the totemistic myths of previous ancestors. Clans seemed to arise around a particular animal. There might be bird-people, or wolf-people, oak-people or river people. Each clan would feel a strong kinship to a particular animal or element. It would be taboo to violate these totem creatures in any way. These spirits, these ancestral spirits protected the clan from disease and violence. To harm any member of the clan would provoke the wrath of this daemonic spirit. I thought perhaps, considering his courting manners, that the demon Garrett, …was part of the Goat Clan.

The more I read, the more I became convinced what I was witnessing here, between Garrett and Obadiah, was a magical conflict that battled though out an early history. In the myth/song, Tain Bo Cuailgne, the rivalry of two bulls, in separate regions, became a war of many transformations for the bulls. In fact (if that word can be used in mythology!) the two bulls were rival druid priests. They transformed themselves for their conflict into ravens, otters, and ‘screeching spectres’ and many other creatures, before they transformed themselves into grains of wheat, to be devoured by cattle and reborn as the two great bulls, Finn, The Light One, and Dub, The Dark. I could find no termination in their feud. But it was a story of kidnapping of each other’s consorts, mates, and enslavement for revenge. All within an animistic frame of reference.

There is comfort in knowing your dreams and illusions are shared by others. Small comfort, but not to be ignored. But why had I framed Garrett and Obadiah in the Christian mythology? Because it was the only one I knew. Though not a practicing Christian, and for a few years interested in pagan religions, I had Christian culture surrounding me from birth. It seeped into the brain and consciousness and formed my only reference for myth. But here, within the Celtic myths, was a culture with dark and light, perhaps good and bad, and this was easy to understand.   Religion stripped of its saints and devils harkened back to the first companions of mankind, the animals. This I could embrace. It felt natural.

I read further. There seemed to be three consistent parts to the Celtic mythology. The conception by magical means, the divine descent through amours of a divinity, and finally, rebirth.

CuChullain  (one version….)

 

Another one…..

Image result for cu chulainn

Garrett had no knowledge of his parentage. Like Etain, who forgot her former existence as a goddess, now newly mortal. So it was with Cuchulainn, of great significance in Celtic myth, reborn as his father Lug. From the Father Lug, to the son, Cuchulainn, to be reborn again as the Father, Lug. It sounded like the Christian Trinity to me. But what was the Christian Trinity in Ireland, but Christianity covering the myths and religions of thousands of years before? Garrett had no knowledge of his parentage. He was like Etain,

Cuchulainn, and so many others caught up and born in the fog of myths. But I had the clue he was of royal blood. His powers were too significant to auger mere magic. There was something of the supernatural about him. Perhaps these Celtic myths pointed the way, as readily as a compass held in the palm of the hand.

I read further and found more of interest. “As mankind in his settlements achieves greater ascendancy over his environments, the gods and goddesses change to reflect his powers, mortal though he be. The gods showed more increasingly human characteristics. They had fallacies, weaknesses, had a connection with mankind. They bred with mortals, populated the earth with their seed. These half mortals have powers, and they are the heroes of their tribes and regions. They are represented by their fathers as numerous as the stars in the heavens. For different tribes had different Gods and Goddesses.”

There are  parallels with what I know of the Greeks and similar cultures.

I came across the experiences of the bard Taliesin in the Cad Goddeu :

 

I was in many shapes before I was released: I was a slender, enchanted sword – I believe it was done, 

I was a rain drop in air, I was a star’s beam,

I was a word of letters, I was a book in origin,

I was lanterns of light for a year and a half;

I was a bridge that stretched over sixty estuaries,

I was a path, I was an eagle, I was a coracle in the seas.

Shape-shifting among these immortals seems to be of two powers. One that was applied to oneself only, and other higher power, where it was possible with self and others. Garrett had shown his ability with the second. I remember the ride in the carriage, where he had transformed my face and form to an elderly, repugnant woman. I thought of his powers of flight, where he transformed distance into mere seconds. Even this snapping of his fingers and his ale appears, and my tea. He calls it ‘common, vulgar magic’. To me, there is wonder and awe in it. He talks vaguely of many transformations, and I have come to well believe him. He is arrogant with the power of knowledge and experience. He seems some sort of god to me. Or close enough.

Something that intrigued me, that focused my attention, was the reading of relationship of king (god) to queen (goddess) to the land. In the embrace of a true king, the land would be fertile, for the role of goddess (queen) would be to do so. In the embrace of a false king, the land would suffer, the seasons harsh and long, the harvests thin, and births were either deformed or infrequent in both humans and animals. The queen, the goddess, would languish, until a proper consort was found. Until the false king was overthrown, was sacrificed either through war or death. Vanquished so the land could become fecund again. I thought about Garrett and Obadiah, such opposite forces. Surely they would represent the true and false kings. And I? I was to remain the constant, though I believed myself barren. Already, my Demon has stirred my womb and I bleed. He protects my ripening fertility, he says, from all others. And yet, did he have control over Cernunnos? If I bred, would I carry Cernunnos’ seed or was that seed on my thigh Garrett’s? And if Obadiah would kidnap me away, would I breed to him for the same purpose? Is this what Garrett hinted in his words to me? I would have ‘power’ in his dimension…I would have prestige besides him as his consort.

There were no answers here, only pointers in many directions. But enough to start me to construct my own dimension with what I had read. Perhaps the dream gave a hint where Garrett was from. Perhaps this book, heavy and dusty and almost crushing my foot, had fallen for a purpose. Perhaps it was as much of a compass sitting in my lap as if I had held one in the small of my palm.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016….with thanks to http://www.eartisans.com for Cernunnos carving. http://www.screwattack.com for the first image of Cuchulainn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“It’s Strange To Be Here. The Mystery Never Leaves You.”

March 14, 2010


Many are familiar with John O’Donohue, the Irish Poet/Priest/Philosopher.  I wasn’t and didn’t hear of him until well after his death in January, 2008 at the age of 52.  Coming upon him so late I realize what a marvelous voice has been stilled, but he did write a lot and spoke around the world.  These writings and interviews are what we have left of this remarkable man, but they speak of deep and important issues of the heart.  What I have cobbled together is partly from an NPR interview of a year ago and other readings of his works.  In these days of Lent, the Christian period before the all important Easter, his words speak deeply to my own lack of faith and a yearning for answers about the visible life around us and the possible connections to the invisible world we contemplate.

The more I’ve been thinking about this, the more it seems to me actually is that the visible world is the first shoreline of the invisible world. And the same way I believe with the body and the soul. That actually the soul — the body is in the soul, not the soul just in the body. And that in some way the poignancy of being a human being is that you are the place where the invisible becomes visible and expressive in some way.

This is a radical concept to my thinking…that the visible world is the first shoreline of the invisible world.  But reading Celtic novels, especially something extended like “Mists of Avalon” certainly has this factor in the mix.  Further, this statement:  That the soul- the body is in the soul, not just in the body, makes sense if you follow Celtic Christianity.

Ireland was an important crucible of Celtic Christianity, merging a strong sense of mystery and transcendence with a passionate embrace of nature, the body, and the senses. The divine is understood as manifest as everywhere in everything. Perhaps this is best described as ‘animism’, or the belief of  the soul or spirit in natural things, like rocks, trees, mountains, thunder, etc…not just residing in the human.  For me, beyond this Celtic Christianity concept, I find it also resides in the Japanese Shinto religion and general mythology in the form of “kami’ or spirits residing in the same natural elements.

“Landscape” is a pivotal word, a defining feature of inner life as well as the outer physical world.  For a while now, I have used this word, “landscape” in my own definition of thoughts of characters:  however, his usage is much broader and more encompassing.

I think it makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house. Whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you but in a totally different form. And if you go towards it with an open heart and a real watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you. And I think that was one of the recognitions of the Celtic imagination: that landscape wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive. What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time.

But I do think though that it’s not just a matter of the outer presence of the landscape. I mean, the dawn goes up and the twilight comes even in the most roughest inner-city place. And I think that connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe that’s there. And I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence — even through memory or imagination — can be brought inward as a sustaining thing. I mean, I think that — and it’s the question of beauty you’re asking essentially. I mean, I think that as we are speaking, that there are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they are able to sustain it, because there is in them some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to in some way. I love Pascal’s phrase, you know, that you should always “keep something beautiful in your mind.” And I have often — like in times when it’s been really difficult for me, if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at now and again, you can endure great bleakness.

Enduring great bleakness.  I think he is talking about an existence we all face in different and daily ways.  I see this as the physical environment surrounding us, those places where we fear the most, see with great trepidation, but also those deep emotional places where we have been wounded. These “keep something beautiful in your mind” allows us to survive those onslaughts.  I believe this is part and parcel of being a writer: we have a world of words to fashion for a particular ‘comfort’ and defense.

O’Donohue said these words that seem to be the meat of the argument…at least to me.

“It’s strange to be here: the mystery never leaves you”.  M. Scott Peck also said something that resonates this concept:  “Life is strange”.

When you think about language and you think about consciousness, it’s just incredible to think that we can make any sounds that can reach over across to each other at all. Because I mean, I think we’re — I think the beauty of being human is that we’re incredibly, intimately near each other. We know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person. And it’s amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that’s the mystery of poetry, you know, is poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as it’s emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth.

“Thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel”.  Rather complex but astoundingly simple, too.  I especially like these words about poetry, because I struggle to be a poet…or actually, the poet in me…that invisible thing makes struggle to manifest into the visible, i.e.: words, poetry. But more, poetry IS the mystery, or a part of the mystery, and makes it manifest.

And the mystery is also the Divine.  Perhaps this is why the Divine is and remains a mystery because of so many aspects, faces.  It remains a mystery because we can never know it all.

An ancient archetypal poem, the “Song of Amergin” illustrates the Celtic sense of a symbiotic and seamless relationship between the natural and the divine.

“I am the wind on the sea. / I am the ocean wave. / I am the sound of the billows. / I am the seven-horned stag. / I am the hawk on the cliff. / I am the dewdrop in sunlight. / I am the fairest of flowers. / I am the raging boar. / I am the salmon in the deep pool. / I am the lake on the plain. / I am the meaning of the poem. / I am the point of the spear. / I am the god that makes fire in the head. / Who levels the mountain? / Who speaks the age of the moon? / Who has been where the sun sleeps? / Who, if not I?”

O’Donohue also writes that ‘everyone is an artist’.

I mean that everyone is involved whether they like it or not in the construction of their world. So, it’s never as given as it actually looks; you are always shaping it and building it. And I feel that from that perspective, that each of us is an artist. Secondly, I believe that everyone has imagination. That no matter how mature and adult and sophisticated a person might seem, that person is still essentially an ex-baby. And as children we all lived in an imaginal world. You know, when you’ve been told don’t cross that wall, ’cause there’s monsters over there, my god, the world you’d create on the other side of the wall.

When you’d ask questions like why is the sky blue or where does God live or you know all this kind of stuff. Like, one of the first times I was coming to America, I said to my little niece, who was seven, I said, ‘What will I bring you from America?’ She said, ‘Uhhhhh.’ And her father said, ‘No, ask him or you won’t get anything.’ And Katy turned to me and said, ‘What’s in it?’ Which I thought was a great question about America. So that childlike thing. And secondly, like that, every night when we sleep we dream, and a dream is a sophisticated, imaginative text full of figures and drama that we send to ourselves. So I believe that deep in the heart of each of us, there is this imagining, imaginal capacity that we have. So that we are all doing it.

I have to stop this entry because it could go on too long, and it’s a lot to take in, John O’Donohue’s words. Another time I will continue this, extend this, his fascinating words because there is much in them,  and for me, it makes some very definite links: it explains some mystery that pulls on the heart and mind, regardless our religious or spiritual or philosophical beliefs.

There is a poem, the famous Cad Coddeu, (The Battle of the Trees) I believe Welsh, that I came across years ago when I first started to write a novel called “Devil’s Revenge”  It is about the calling into battle of the trees, and it remains one of my favorites. The Battle of the Trees is a poem from the Book of Taliesin in which the legendary enchanter Gwydion animates the trees of the forest to fight as his army. In a loose fashion, it illustrates some of this concept that O’Donohue is talking about:  the soul residing in all natural phenomena , the animating force of life.  What is especially delightful about this poem is the calling out of the individual qualities of each of the species.  Anyone a bit familiar with trees will recognize these qualities of the different ‘woods’.

Lady Nyo

Cad Coddeu

The tops of the beech tree have sprouted of late,

Are changed and renewed from their withered state.

When the beech prospers, though spells and litanies

The oak tops entangle, there is hope for trees.

I have plundered the fern, through all secrets I spy,

Old Math ap Mathonwy knew no more than I.

For with nine sorts of faculty God has gifted me,

I am fruit of fruits gathered from nine sorts of tree–

Plum, quince, whortle, mulberry, raspberry, pear,

Black cherry and white, with the sorb in me share.

From my seat at Fefynedd, a city that is strong,

I watched the trees and green things hastening along.

Retreating from happiness they would fein be set

In forms of the chief letters of the alphabet.

Wayfarers wandered, warriors were dismayed

At renewal of conflicts such as Gwydion made;

Under the tongue root a fight most dread,

And another raging, behind, in the head.

The alders in the front line began the affray.

Willow and rowan-tree were tardy in array.

The holly, dark green, made a resolute stand;

He is armed with many spear-points wounding the hand.

With foot-beat of the swift oak heaven and earth rung;

“Stout Guardian of the Door”, his name in every tongue.

Great was the gorse in battle, and the ivy at his prime;

The hazel was arbiter at this charmed time.

Uncouth and savage was the fir, cruel the ash tree–

Turns not aside a foot-breadth, straight at the heart runs he.

The birch, though very noble, armed himself but late:

A sign not of cowardice but of high estate.

The heath gave consolation to the toil-spent folk,

The long-enduring poplars in battle much broke.

Some of them were cast away on the field of fight

Because of holes torn in them by the enemy’s might.

Very wrathful was the vine whose henchmen are the elms;

I exalt him mightily to rulers of realms.

Strong chieftains were the blackthorn with his ill fruit,

The unbeloved whitethorn who wears the same suit.

The swift-pursuing reed, the broom with his brood,

And the furse but ill-behaved until he is subdued.

The dower-scattering yew stood glum at the fight’s fringe,

With the elder slow to burn amid fires that singe.

And the blessed wild apple laughing in pride

From the Gorchan of Maeldrew, by the rock side.

In shelter linger privet and woodbine,

Inexperienced in warfare, and the courtly pine.

But I, although slighted because I was not big,

Fought, trees, in your array on the field of Goddeu Brig.


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