I discovered the root of my love for poetry twenty years ago when traversing Ireland’s winding roads. A dominant charm of the Emerald Isle is the English language spoken by the Gaelic tongue. The cost of travel is worth the verse and cadence of conversation in boisterous pubs and beside cozy peat fires.
However, as my Midwest husband couldn’t understand my relatives’ speech upon his first visit to my Appalachia, neither could my ear follow the Irish brogue.
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I consider my McCoy-O’Brien agrarian ancestors and their way of storytelling. I remember my maternal grandmother’s three books: the Bible in her hands, and a hymnal and songbook kept on her piano’s music rack. She also read the daily newspaper to keep pace with her community and new recipes.
A preacher, Granny reprimanded me when I could read music just enough to plunk out Little Brown Jug on her piano keys. “Now, git down from my piana! Who taught you how to play that ol’ drinkin’ song?”
Guess Granny didn’t know I took violin lessons in school. As a child, I couldn’t perceive the cultural divide between her life and my family’s. And I dared not ask why the songbook sat beside the hymnal.
My parents didn’t read books when raising my four sisters and me. As Granny, they also combed the daily news.
I acknowledge the responsibilities my parents carried: the midnight oil my mother burned with her Brothers sewing machine to clothe her five growing girls.
My parents’ reading habits reflected middle-class America in Post-WWII’s sprawling suburbs. Our city planners also overlooked the value of literature when they neglected to build libraries within our neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, nationwide, households traded family stories and reading books for the television.
When my older sister and I entered high-school, Dad provided us with a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, an expensive and overwhelming feast of history and information too large to hold and read.
Yet, God is good and put Miss Shingler into my path. My sophomore English teacher, she quickened the promise of poetry when she led our class in reading aloud poetry by Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare, to name a few.
Dear Reader, today I pull an Irish poetry anthology from my bookshelf and listen to an Irish voice from the early 1900s.
by Padriac Pearse
I come of the seed of the people, the people that sorrow,
That have no treasure but hope,
No riches laid up but a memory
Of an ancient glory.
My mother bore me in bondage, in bondage my mother was born,
I am the blood of serfs;
The children with whom I have played, the men and women with whom I have eaten…
Have worn shameful manacles, have been bitten as at the wrist by manacles…
I say to my people that they are holy…
That they are greater than those that hold them, and stronger and purer,
That they have need of courage, and to call on the name of their God,
God the unforgetting, the dear God that loves the peoples for whom He died naked, suffering shame.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org