Eastertide is the perfect time to contemplate the knowledge that each dawn Christ rises again with us and with us dies each evening, writes John F. Deane
I have been and am in lockdown in Leitrim. With my wife Ursula, we are classified as vulnerable. Without WiFi it has been difficult for me to write poetry and be in touch with other poets. In such isolation I still am able to relish the fellowship and encouragement (by email) of poets like James Harpur and Padraig J. Daly, both of whom posted on some books to help us through.
It has been a time of difficulty and a time of blessing. Weather has been superb and spring in the countryside has been magnificent. Easter Week, with its memories and promise, was an added grace.
At first the ghostly blossoms of the blackthorn hung along the hedgerows in off-white nightgowns; the early marsh orchids rose in Lenten purple. But I knew that between the April blackthorn and the May white, we would suffer such sicknesses and deaths that grief would be our daily bread. A Paschal moon lifted white as buttermilk over the poplar trees and the world lay in unsettling stillness. Two thousand years and our souls are still small and hard as nubs, we have not learned to care for the ground beneath our feet.
Without a computer I had to write by hand again. That slowed me down but then there was not much point in hurrying. Hopkins wrote that “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things” and the world around us, relieved of so much human pressure, at least for a time, showed forth the grandeur of God’s creation.
We lived Holy Week in togetherness and were grateful for the television ceremonies.
First, we were reminded, there will be the long and penetrating shadow of the cross, then the piercing light of the resurrection; we die in between.
I wrote a poem on the death of a friend – handwritten, then photographed on Ursula’s smartphone – and sent it by WhatsApp to a journal in Britain; slow and laborious, perhaps, but it worked.
I turned back, knowing we had all died with him this day”
The night of Good Friday was dark; I walked down cautiously to the red gate. New leaves on the poplars rustled softly. I found my imagination stirring! I knew that the souls of the countless dead watched, in absorbed silence, from the pine-tree forest across the road. I closed the gate, stirred again by the groaning sound it made.
A gentle breeze shushed all the forest in a shuddering sigh. I turned back, knowing we had all died with him this day but only he was taken down into the abyss.
During the reading of St John’s Gospel I was smitten for the first time by the almost throwaway extra suffering forced on the Christ; John writes that after they had scourged Jesus, “the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head”. How much extra and arbitrary pain they caused him to undergo!
Sunday morning dawned with birdsong. At the feeder were the finches: goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch. I opened the gate again onto an empty road. I knew that overnight the numbers of the dead had risen and I would have wept, for them and for the Christ, wept as an older man weeps who has known humanity’s many failures. Then, the heart open to the covenant cosmos has made with us, I felt that the Christ had stood beside me at the red gate, that I saw the deep punctures about his brow, that crown of thorns and briars hammered home.
Now I could weep but I knew, this special morning, that each dawn he rises again with us and with us dies each evening. I imagined those souls watching from the forest and they whispered to me: “Tell them,” they whispered, “tell them.”
Now the blossoms of the blackthorn were fading and the nubs of the bitter dark sloes began to form. At the same time the blossoms of the whitethorn waited with their ‘voluptuous sweetness’ to burst forth. All around, on the drumlins and low hills of Leitrim, the startling yellow-gold blooms of the furze cast a fire of loveliness around us. What could a would-be poet do but write:
Now I sit, cocooned and quarantined, stare
at the fire dying in the stove; I will let
the summer moon rise high above the poplars
and the bats go whizzing by between the house
and outhouse. There is disorder everywhere
in the world, disorder in the blood, mourning
in the deserted streets and down the twisting
mayflower-crowded country lanes. At sunset
names of the dead are called aloud and we see
again their well-loved faces. Our covenant
with cosmos is under strain, forcing the heart
into original vulnerability, to seek
beyond the plate-glass walls of commerce
for something blessed and vital we have lost
while creation’s fire burns on and the days lighten.
John F. Dean’s latest book ‘Outlaw Christ’ is now available at Columba Books