Friday, August 10, 2007

A Poem for all about to Graduate

Begin Again

(By Brendan Kennelly)

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of light at the window,
begin to the roar of summoning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.

Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark determination
and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and the future
old friends passing though with us still.

Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces,
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.


This is one of my favourite poems by Brendan. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of being addressed or lectured to by Brendan will know that he oozes charm and a simplicity, both of which allow him to carry his rich fund of knowledge, insight and wisdom very lightly indeed. The listener or student will find himself or herself learning much by a process almost as simple as osmosis. Enthusiastic is another epithet that fits Brendan’s style of lecturing and indeed all his writing. Two other words also come to my mind – he is both a passionate and compassionate man, two qualities he shared in abundance with his fellow county man, the late John Moriarty who died some months back. If you read the above poem Brendan’s wisdom and insight into life, again quite Buddhist in spirit, leap off the page. Again, Brendan, who was best part of forty years Professor of Modern English at TCD, wears his learning lightly and loves talking with the commonality like myself. I remember some ten years back I was sitting on a seat watching a cricket match in TCD when Brendan happened to come out for his evening stroll and by chance sat down on the seat beside me. I asked was he looking for inspiration for a poem, to which he replied, “just takin’ it aisy boy, takin’ it aisy.” I’ve written his comments phonetically to catch his marvellous Kerry accent. That’s the kind of man he is – absolutely no pretensions at all. He does not need to play the professor when not “at work” or “in role.”

Beginning and ending are if you like two metaphors for living (being born) and dying (the ending of this mortal life). In a way every beginning is an ending insofar as when one graduates from school one also leaves adolescence behind; when one graduates from college one leaves one’s young student days behind; getting a job is another transitional phase made up of this ending-beginning paradox; marriage also; then we have the midlife crisis; promotion is another example; being stricken by an illness; a bereavement; a new relationship; old age and then finally dying all share in this ending-beginning motif. That’s what rites of passage are all about, moving on, because we cannot stay in the same place always.

And so graduations like marriages are somewhat bitter-sweet occasions because they are transitional. Life itself is transitional by its very nature. That is the very meaning of mortality. But something inside us drives us ahead, wants us to keep moving onwards…, that is, until we breathe our very last breath. And so we will read the last stanza of this beautiful poem again:

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

Above I have pasted a picture of some trees I took at Newbridge House three years ago. They are in their winter beauty, but come spring they will have to begin all over again!

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