Monday, 9 September 2013

St. Kevin and the blackbird

St Kevin was known as a lover of nature. Legend has it that one day Kevin was praying with his arms outstretched in his cell in Glendalough. His cell was so small that his hands reached out the windows. As he was praying, a blackbird came and nestled in his open hand. The blackbird built a nest and laid her eggs. St. Kevin decided he wouldn't move his arms until the egg had hatched and the chick flown away. Like all simple stories, many meanings have been taken from this legend. Is it about endurance? Finding love in a hard place? Nurture despite hardship? Kindness?

The Irish poet,   Seamus Heaney, who died last Friday wrote a poem that describes it better:

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing's imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he:
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love's deep river,
'To labour and not to seek reward,' he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bid
And on the riverbank forgotten the river's name.

By Seamus Heaney