Thursday, May 04, 2006

the still point of detachment


pink rowhouse
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Flying home to Chicago out of Dublin yesterday, I finally sat down with the book I meant to read before the trip -- How the Irish Saved Western Civilization -- and hit on this passage, a reference to the Celts and the color of their world prior to St. Patrick’s reshaping of it. It captures beautifully that sense of something lost –- the faint memory that hangs around Irish literature and history and music (or seems to, to an outsider like me) –- like that feeling you get when you’re napping in the soft breeze of an open window and your friend’s voice calls to you from the street below; but before you can shake off the sleep and respond, he’s gone.
Fixity escaped these people, as in the end it escapes us all. They understood, as few have understood before or since, how fleeting life is and how pointless to try to hold on to things or people.

They pursued the wondrous deed, the heroic gesture: fighting, fucking, drinking, art –- poetry for intense emotion, the music that accompanied the heroic drinking with which each day ended, bewitching ornament for one’s person and possessions.

All these are worth pursuit, and the first, especially, will bring the honor great souls seek. But in the midst of this furious swirl of energy lies a still point of detachment. When in the heat of battle, the bloodied messenger informs Medb timidly that Chuchulainn has beheaded her son, she responds, “This isn’t like catching birds,” as we might say, “you didn’t think this would be a picnic, did you?”

The face of the Dying Gaul speaks for them all: each one of us will die, naked and alone, on some battlefield not of our own choosing. My promise of undying faithfulness to you and yours to me, though made with all solemnity, is unlikely to survive the tricks that fate has in store – all the hidden land mines that beset human life. What we can rely on are the comeliness and iron virtue of the short-lived hero: his loyalty to cause and comrades, his bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, the gargantuan generosity with which he scatters his possessions and his person and with which he spills his blood.

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was heard to say that to be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.


Thomas Cahill in How the Irish Saved Western Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe

1 comment:

anne said...

hey dayna,
i love your ireland pics—good inspiration!
anne

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