Christmas Alphabet I for In The Bleak Midwinter : Shawn Colvin & Bert Jansch

We live, now, in a world where, at the flick of a switch, we can be bathed in brilliant light.

But, for millennia it was not so.

We lived in a world lit only by Fire.

Huddled in the darkness we looked with awe and supplication to the celestial lamps in the sky.

The Stars, The Moon and The Sun.

By observation and calculation we learned to predict the movements of these Heavenly Bodies (oft times believing them to be the actual bodies of the gods who bestowed the light upon us).

We came to know that there was a cosmic dance and that, magically, in December, out of the depths of darkness, the first light of the rising sun signalled rebirth for the land, the crops and for the people.

No matter how dark it gets there is hope, belief, that the light and the warmth it brings will always return.

At Newgrange, in Ireland, before Stonehenge or The Pyramids, the Ancients built a stone vault in honour of the return of the light.

In this vault, at exactly 8.58am each December 21st, the light penetrates to the furthest reaches where the souls of the dead abide.

The light comes once more to the dead.

Heaven and Earth are joined once again.

In the bleak midwinter the cosmic promise is fulfilled.

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the 2013 Winter Solstice at Newgrange. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

‘First light like share-shine in a furrow

 Steadily deeper, farther available,

Creeping along the floor of the passage grave

To backstone and capstone, to hold its candle

Inside the cosmic hill. Who dares say ‘love’

At this cold coming? Who would dare not say it?’ (Seamus Heaney)

Though the frosty wind makes moan and earth stands hard as iron and though the snow falls snow on snow on snow there is an end to the bleak midwinter.

The light returns.

Hope returns.

Shawn Colvin with a tender version of Christina Rossetti’s great Christmas Carol.

Shawn lets the Mystery Be.

Now, Bert Jansch, has always been able to let the Mystery Be.

His plays the guitar in quest of the mysteries we all feel as we look up at those celestial lamps.

His genius is to conjure from six strings ancient knowings that cannot be expressed in words.

Surely among the tribe at Newgrange there were musicians and singers waiting, with bated breath, for that redemptive first light at all those years ago.

If they were able to hear Bert play now they would recognise, at once, a Brother.

The Alphabet Series continues on 13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t miss One!

 

A Jolly Holiday .. Louis Armstrong .. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo!

It’s that time of the year again.

Time for a Jolly Holiday.

Time to gather the family, rev up the family car (The Roadster safely tucked up in the garage) and set off to the far, far West.

Finisterre as it were.

The Atlantic Ocean thrashing and murmuring through the hours according to the dictates of the distant Moon.

The last rays of the Sun over the land.

Suitcases stowed along with :

Surfboards, Wetsuits, Kites (Kites are skittish things), Quoits, Cricket Bats and Compendium of Games (can I retain my title as supreme draughts/checkers champion?).

Laptops, IPods, IPads, Cameras, Tripods, assorted chargers and batteries.

For me three books guaranteed to please whatever the weather.

To make me laugh out loud P. G. Wodehouse :

‘It’s no use telling me there are good aunts and bad aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.’

To inspire me, ‘Stepping Stones’ – conversations between Seamus Heaney and Dennis O’Driscoll illuminating the great Poet’s dedication to his vocation :

‘If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find the way’.

To utterly sweep me away, ‘Moby Dick’ :

‘Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.’

Obviously, a selection of music to suit all our ages, all times of the day and night and all our humours.

As we drive down we check off the Way stages of our journey laughing as we recount previous adventures.

Old memories celebrated. New memories minted.

And, there’s always one song that elects itself our Summer Song.

A mysterious process but agreement on the chosen song is always by acclamation and lusty choral sing song.

So I am pleased to open the envelope and announce to a breathless world that this years song is the fantastic, frolicsome, ‘Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo!’ by the one, the only, Louis Armstrong!

Take it away Satch!

Well, I have to say I can’t think of another song by another singer more guaranteed to have a family laugh out loud with delirious pleasure!

Louis Armstrong was a certified musical genius.

But, he was also a man who radiated warmth and bonhomie.

I only have to imagine his face or listen to the echo of his unique tones to feel that life is a very fine enterprise.

I wholly agree with Tony Bennett – ‘The bottom line of any country is, What did we contribute to the World. We (the USA) contributed Louis Armstrong.’

Now, I’m aware many of you are not on Holiday.

No, you’re straining at the coal face or the chalk face or the work station counting down the hours.

There are, I am told, many fine books on mindfulness and mediatation that might help you in such circumstances.

Yet, I have never found a better way to lift my mood than to call up Louis Armstrong in my mind and sing, sing, sing,

Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo! Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo!

Happy Holidays.

Maura O’Connell – Silence and Stories: Maggie, Down By The Salley Gardens

Posts for Paddy’s Day 1

Christmas. New Years Day. Spring Solstice. Easter. Midsummer Day. First leaf fall. First fall of snow.

Way markers of the passing year. Each new feast chiming with all those that have gone before in the quickening parade of our lives.

And, if you are Irish, or of Irish stock, St Patrick’s Day.

On my twitter account (@thomhickey55 – sign up now if you’re not signed up already!) I describe myself, among other things, as, ‘Almost Irish’. That’s because though I was not born in Ireland both my parents and all my forebears were.

So, I unhesitatingly believe that whatever literary or rhetorical gifts I possess are drawn from a deep Celtic well. My mother told me a million stories and taught me how to tell them too. My Dad taught me how to listen to the important things that are always said in silences.

Stories and silences. Silences and stories. Of such things are true songs and poems made. By singers and poets who have listened, learned and dwelt in the silences surrounding the stories they offer up to us.

So, for the week that’s in it, I’m going to feature on The Immortal Jukebox some of the Irish singers, musicians and poets who have told the stories, sung the songs and made the poems that have touched my heart and lifted the spirits as the parade of my own life has passed by.

There are many stars in the firmament of Irish roots/traditional music and the nation has been particularly blessed by a generation of luminously talented women singers including Dolores Keane and Mary Black.

But, for me, the singer who has always shone the brightest and heartrendingly illuminated the miraculous combination of power, poetry, joy and tragedy contained within a really great song is Maura O’ Connell.

Some mysterious quality in her voice, which frequently brings me to tears, seems to bring out the truth that, ‘behind every beautiful thing there’s some kind of pain’. I can’t think of another singer who marries the story and the silence with such delicate grace as Maura O’Connell.

Her ability to find and reveal the beating heart of a song after searching within herself for the truest way to offer up its gifts, without histrionics or affectation, is achingly exemplified in, ‘When You and I Were Young Maggie’.

There is no grandstanding when Maura O’Connell sings. She once said that, ‘My intention was to just sing the song clearly. I just wanted to be there to serve the song, rather than to show off a particular vocal style’.

She seems to me to have perfected the art of sifting a song for the precious metal at its core. Through instinct and craft she finds the stillness and silence within a song. Then, with respect, discretion and measured emotion using all the resources of her vocal talent and personal presence; the very essence of her being – she sings. And we encounter a true artist.

Maura O’Connell knows that a true song though anchored in the time and culture of its creation will, if performed with a true heart and true art, live on into the future and speak to peoples never imagined by its author.

In W. B Yeats, ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ Maura found such a song. Though thousands of singers have sung this song it’s Maura O’Connell who sounds the deepest depths of Yeats’ incantatory cadences. Surrender, with gratitude, to the spell she and Yeats have cast.

Now a poem from a true inheritor of Yeats’ bardic role in the life of Ireland and the life of poetry, Seamus Heaney. The sudden manner of his death was a profound shock for Ireland and the world wide poetic community. Yet, while acknowledging our grief we draw sustenance from the poems which will surely continue to speak of the human condition down the ages as do the poems of Homer, Virgil and Yeats.

In his wonderfully vigorous poetry we are brought into imaginative contact with earthed lightning. And, sometimes we are guided to a realm that is usually just out of our vision, though always there.

Flaggy Shore 2

A place where known and strange things pass right in front of us and the world is made anew. Seamus Heaney made poetry which caught our hearts off guard and blew them open.

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

Dedicated to Peg Brosnan, Mikey Brosnan (RIP) and Kevin and Nora McElligott (RIP).

Thanks to Catherine Dunne for the haunting image