I've started reading Endymion by John Keats today. I've started reading this poem on several occasions before, but I've never got past a page or two. I've loved poetry all my life, but it's always been lyric poetry that principally appealed to me. The idea of a long narrative poem, or simply a long poem in general, is daunting.
Despite this, I have read long poetry in the past. I've read Paradise Lost, The Canterbury Tales, The Divine Comedy, and many others.
And yet, long poetry still seems to me like terra incognita, a continent I keep intending to explore, but which remains beyond my ken.
I feel such a sense of shame about this. Poetry has brought tremendous pleasure into my life-- sometimes even an almost animal pleasure. And yet, side by side with this, I've felt a life-long shame at not reading enough poetry, or not reading it seriously.
Very often, when I read prose, I feel ashamed that I'm not reading poetry. Prose seems like baby's stuff in comparison.
I don't only feel shame for my own sake, but for the sake of my culture. It bothers me that poetry remains unread, for the most part, and that it's the magnum opera of the great poets that remains unread-- the works (generally long poems) which they would have considered their most important.
I know I've mentioned all this before. I don't mean to bore my regular readers (any more so than usual, I mean).
In this post, I'm thinking more about the strange sense of relief I feel when I finally buckle down to something I've been avoiding for a long time-- a sensation that might be familiar to my reader, as well.
I felt this sensation earlier this week, when I went canvassing door-to-door with the Irish pro-life campaign. As many of you will know, this year there will be a referendum on whether we should remove the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which protects the life of the unborn.
My contribution to the pro-life cause, so far, has been restricted to attending rallies and writing letters to the newspaper.
I've always bauked at the idea of bothering anybody. The prospect of walking up to a stranger and accosting them makes me squirm. I'll even avoid asking for directions as long as I possibly can.
Despite this, I felt it was my clear duty to go canvassing to protect the Eighth Amendment. So on Monday, I found myself knocking on doors in the suburb of Finglas, and pressing pamphlets on unsuspecting householders. It wasn't so bad, in the end; I had somebody with me, and I find it a lot easier to knock on doors than to approach someone on the street.
But, more than anything else, I felt a powerful sense of relief that I was finally doing something that I'd been resisting for so long.
The same tension is at work when it comes to my feelings about the Irish language. As I've explained in previous posts, in my lifetime I've travelled from a sense of outright animosity towards the Irish language, towards an intermittent sense of desolation at its neglect. Now and again, I feel a sense of outrage that, every single moment of every single day, Irish people make the choice to speak in the language of another country rather than their own.
I've often imagined what a sense of blessed relief there must be in choosing to conduct your life entirely in the Irish language, as far as possible. I'm sure it has tremendous challenges and frustration, but what a weight of guilt and shame must fall away from such an Irishman (or Irishwoman)-- to know that you, at least, are doing everything you can to give life to the language!
The most important application of this concept, of course, is sanctity. Very often, when reading the lives of the saints, a sinner like me is struck by the thought: "Imagine the relief that there must be in simply casting away sin, casting away worldliness, and living entirely for Jesus!".
Various passages in the lives of the saints provoke this reaction in mw. One that often comes to mind is an account I read of the Curé d'Ars' daily routine. His entire day was spent either in his parish church, or visiting his flock. Many hours were spent in the confessional alone.
That must have been gruelling-- but surely, such dedication would be accompanied by a lightness of heart, knowing that you were giving everything for Jesus, holding nothing back? "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light".
In the meantime, however, I continue to speak English, and to read prose rather than poetry, and to sin. God help me!