I’m not in Ireland today, but the grey sky in West Texas has been pouring steady water for over twenty-four hours. When I went running down the flooded little streets in the drippy dusk earlier, I lingered over my memories of wet days in the Aran Islands back in March.
And I decided to post this little poem that I wrote earlier this week in Dr. Bob Fink’s creative writing workshop. The poem was an attempt to distill the essence of my experience at Kilmurvey House, a lovely historic stone home that serves as a lodging-place for island visitors.
The photo included here is not my own, but it is just how I remember Kilmurvey House. The lighted window on the right side of the picture is the window into the “rose tea-room” mentioned in the poem - a room where my now-fiancé and I read a little book of W.B. Yeats’ poetry on a wet, wet day much like this one.
The poem I most clearly recall reading was “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” because we discussed it at some length and questioned whether cynicism is a natural accompaniment for age and, if so, whether it must be?
Yeats famously visited the Aran Islands in 1896 and told J.M. Synge: “Go to the Aran Islands, and find a life that has never been expressed in literature.” Kilmurvey House was standing when Yeats was on the island, but no one in our group was certain whether he ever went there specifically.
When I first set out to write this poem, I wanted to know for sure - I thought it was important to the poem. But as I began to think about it more deeply, I realized that this small fact is immaterial in the scheme of things. What matters is that I was there, reading Yeats and wrestling with what he said and I wanted to give words to that experience. So this is my best attempt.
"No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.”
(W.B. Yeats, Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?)
I don’t know if Yeats ever came here or not
on a pitching ferry passing
the wild atlantic way the saltgrass air in his nose
the gulls wheeling.
There are always red coals in the rose tea room
the kettle about to bubble
and the little warm milk pods in the bowl on the
Why should not old men be mad? Even the ocean
is white with rage
throwing beaten egg stones up on the beach
howling in the boulders.
Yet will you sit with me here in the circle
of bodhran thunder and light?
Sometimes the mind breaks and spills
[Bryana Joy Johnson, 2017]