A total connection with the present is a difficult thing to obtain. Our worlds are shaped by our tumultuous histories, and our triumphs are often overshadowed by our worst enemies – ourselves. Daily planning and routine trumps most spontaneity.
As a result, many turn to myths, rituals, and metaphysical practices to gain a better sense of what it means to embrace the present and savor every moment in a significant place, whether that place be physical or mental. The poetry associated with the Celtic tradition offers boundless outlets for anyone seeking connectedness. Here is simply a taste of what the Irish have to offer.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
– W. B. Yeats
Despite a barrage of criticism from his English contemporaries, Irish poet William Butler Yeats poured out his love for place onto the page. Let’s face it. Most would not object to throwing their hands up and escaping to a little island in the center of an Ireland lake. With generously woven alliteration and nature sounds, Yeats takes us there. “Innisfree” is only one example of the many poems that celebrate the Irish landscape in short, rhythmical lines.
In reality, the actual Lake Isle of Innisfree is not much to admire. Most large, natural lakes have little islands that sit mostly uninhabited, and Innisfree is not unlike any other lake isle. Nevertheless, to Yeats, this little island was a utopia because he saw it the way most did not, and he immortalized that connection to place in his verse. Journaling, sketching, rock collecting, collaging, and scrapbooking are outlets you can use to help you return to your favorite place at any time of day. Like Yeats and other Celts, you may obtain a healing and uplifting connection to a place that is yours and yours alone. Also by Yeats…
Song of the Wandering Aengus
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
Yeats and other Celtic poets thrived on using mythological allusions in their work. According to the “Celtic Fairy Poetry” page at celticfairymusic.com, this vibrant poem leads us through the story of Aengus, the Irish god of love who, oddly enough, dreamed of falling in love with a bean sidh or banshee. A banshee is a female fairy in Irish mythology who is usually seen as an omen of death or a messenger from the underworld. Regardless, Yeats’ continuous use of imagery and setting stays true to another stand-out trait of Irish poetry – the love for nature and all of the sensory stimulation the natural world has to offer us. Take for example…
Undressed trees stand shivering
as flimsy shifts blew away;
the last leaves are quivering,
till they too will drop, decay.
Under bark’s rough covering
grow tiny cells in wonder-
blooms to be, still hovering,
kept safe from autumn’s thunder.
Dreams of spring are flowering
in darkened nights soft caress;
lovers cuddle, showering
moist kisses on skin, undressed
Beyond Yeats, poets continue to harness the spirit of Celtic style and form. Celtic poetry is rich in celebration of nature and elementals. Roovers’ poem, published in 2004 and found on The Poets Garret uses an old Celtic form named Ae freslighe (pronounced ay-fresh-lee) – a poem with seven syllable quatrains that begins and ends with the same word. More importantly, he closes the gap between human beings and their place in the natural world, personifying the trees and comparing human intimacy to the cyclic foliage, a popular theme in more modern Celtic poems. For more on Celtic Literature and Mythology, visit “Irish Literature, Mythology, Folklore, and Drama” at luminarium.org.
“Celtic Fairy Poetry”. celticfairymusic.com. 2015. 6 Jul 2015
Roovers, Leny. “Undressed”. thepoetsgarret.com. 10 Feb. 2004. 6 Jul 2015
Yeats, William Butler. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” poets.org. 1888. 6 Jul 2015
Yeats, William Butler. “Song of Wandering Aengus”. celticfairymusic.com. 1899.
6 Jul 2015