Carrying Thoughts


I was needing a thin volume to level up two piles of books that I was using to balance my laptop on for a zoom session, and I took down a poetry collection that I hadn’t opened in some time: Christy Brown’s Of Snails and Skylarks.  This is from another era; sometimes I feel almost another life.  Christy Brown would have been known in the 70s and early 80s.  He was unable to write or paint with anything other than with his left foot, managing under considerable difficulty with Cystic fibrosis, but he produced some remarkable work, gently elegiac and deeply emotional.  

The title of his books of poetry and his novels are themselves reflective of his outlook, not to mention his Irish heritage:  A Shadow on Summer, Wild Grow the Lilies, Down All the Days, Come Softly To My Wake, Background Music and his childhood autobiography My Left Foot.  Of Snails and Skylarks is the only one of his works that I have, its orange cover slightly creased, and faded down the spine.  It fell open on a poem entitled Victoria.

Victoria reaches further back again, “out of a past neither of us ever really knew/ still less apprehended with total mind”.  It was making me think about how we remember as I tried out the rhythms and words of this lovely poem on my tongue: “Yesterday was something we savoured/ with our finer perceptions/ with keener felicities of sense/ than are likely to attend us ever afterwards.”  He speak of the, “unreturnable rhythm of the sea” and of yesterday ebbing away, “leaving fragile imprints we shall trace in our minds forever.”

Do we turn over the past with more care and gentle reason than we do the present?  Did we think with greater attention and depth in years before social media and instant communication made us information junkies?  Christy Brown asks many things of himself in the lines of this poem, and by extension of the reader too, but none more poignant than that raised by his sad words, as he observes within himself, “my heart a vessel looted of compassion.”

As tunes and songs fix in our minds as we potter around the house or walk the paths through the fields, so thoughts get lodged and our eyes turn inwards as well as to our feet as to the horizon.  The end-of-the-day sunshine that falls across the hummocky ground through which the coastal path is trod is casting long shadows these early evenings, and, as Christy Brown would put it, “making the broad spaces between us/ flower with meaning.”

John Mann