In a meadow
Beside the chapel three boys were playing football.
At the forge door an old man was leaning
Viewing a hunter-hoe. A man could hear
If he listened to the breeze the fall of wings –
How wistfully the sin-birds come home!
It was Confession Saturday, the first
Saturday in May; the May Devotions
Were spread like leaves to quieten
The excited armies of conscience.
The knife of penance fell so like a blade
Of grass that no one was afraid.
Father Mat came slowly walking, stopping to
Stare through gaps at ancient Ireland sweeping
In again with all its unbaptized beauty:
The calm evening,
The whitethorn blossoms,
The smell from ditches that were not Christian.
The dancer that dances in the hearts of men cried:
Look! I have shown this to you before –
The rags of living surprised
The joy in things you cannot forget.
His heavy hat was square upon his head,
Like a Christian Brother’s;
His eyes were an old man’s watery eyes,
Out of his flat nose grew spiky hairs.
He was a part of the place,
Natural as a round stone in a grass field;
He could walk through a cattle fair
And the people would only notice his odd spirit there.
His curate passed on a bicycle –
He had the haughty intellectual look
Of the man who never reads in brook or book;
A man designed
To wear a mitre,
To sit on committees –
For will grows strongest in the emptiest mind.
The old priest saw him pass
And, seeing, saw
Himself a mediaeval ghost.
Ahead of him went Power,
One who was not afraid when the sun opened a flower,
Who was never astonished
At a stick carried down a stream
Or at the undying difference in the corner of a field.
The Holy Ghost descends
At random like the muse
On wise man and food,
And why should poet in the twilight choose?
Within the dim chapel was the grey
Mumble of prayer
To the Queen of May –
The Virgin Mary with the schoolgirl air.
Two guttering candles on a brass shrine
Raised upon the wall
Monsters of despair
To terrify deep into the soul.
Through the open door the hum of rosaries
Came out and blended with the homing bees.
Heard nothing stranger than the rain or the wind
Or the birds –
But deep in their roots they knew a seed had sinned.
In the graveyard a goat was nibbling at a yew,
The cobbler’s chickens with anxious looks
Were straggling home through nettles, over graves.
A young girl down a hill was driving cows
To a corner at the gable-end of a roofless house.
Cows were milked earlier,
The supper hurried,
Hens shut in,
And three men shaving before the same mirror.
The trip of iron tips on tile
Hesitated up the middle aisle,
Heads that were bowed glanced up to see
Who could this last arrival be.
Murmur of women’s voices from the porch,
Memories of relations in the graveyard.
On the stem
Of memory imaginations blossom.
In the dim
Corners in the side seats faces gather,
Lit up now and then by a guttering candle
And the ghost of day at the window.
A secret lover is saying
Three Hail Marys that she who knows
The ways of women will bring
Cathleen O’Hara (he names her) home to him.
Ironic fate! Cathleen herself is saying
Three Hail Marys to her who knows
The ways of men to bring
Somebody else home to her –
‘O may he love me.’
What is the Virgin Mary now to do?
From a confessional
The voice of Father Mat’s absolving
Rises and falls like a briar in the breeze.
As the sins pour in the old priest is thinking
His fields of fresh grass, his horses, his cows,
His earth into the fires of Purgatory.
It cools his mind.
‘They confess to the fields,’ he mused,
‘They confess to the fields and the air and the sky,’
And forgiveness was the soft grass of his meadow by the river;
His thoughts were walking through it now.
His human lips talked on:
Only the poor in spirit shall wear the crown;
Can creep in the low door
On to Heaven’s floor.’
The Tempter had another answer ready:
‘Ah, lad, upon the road of life
‘Tis best to dance with Chance’s wife
And let the rains that come in time
Erase the footprints of the crime.’
The dancer that dances in the hearts of men
Tempted him again:
‘Look! I have shown you this before;
From this mountain-top I have tempted Christ
With what you see now
Of beauty – all that’s music, poetry, art
In things you can touch every day.
I broke away
And rule all dominions that are rare;
I took with me all the answers to every prayer
That young men and girls pray for: love, happiness, riches – ‘
O Tempter! O Tempter!
As Father Mat walked home
Venus was in the western sky
And there were voices in the hedges:
‘God the Gay is not the Wise.’
‘Take your choice, take your choice,’
Called the breeze through the bridge’s eye.
‘The domestic Virgin and Her Child
Or Venus with her ecstasy.’