27 November 2011

Time to Start Charming Back the Luxury...

Today's not going quite to plan. Having overslept, my body clearly still trying to make up for the last week or so of illness, I missed morning Mass and have been trying to figure out the logistics of crossing the Pennines and getting to Pontefract for the afters of a dear friend's wedding, while still finding some way of attending Mass on this very special Sunday.

I have it worked out, I think. There's a train at half three, and another one just after four, and then one from Leeds at a quarter past five. I should have plenty of time to wander about Pontefract and find the church there in time for evening Mass before heading off to the hotel and arriving about an hour later than I'd like. Ambitious stuff for a man who's hardly been able to leave the couch since last Saturday morning and currently bearing eight or nine days' worth of stubble, but still. Needs must. Mass matters, as do friends.

Why is today so special? Well, because it's my friends' wedding day, of course, and because today's the first day that the corrected translation of the Mass shall be used in full, and because it's the first Sunday of Advent, after all, a time of hope and of joyful anticipation of Christmas. I always think of Advent as a profoundly English time of year, probably due to having read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising and seen the BBC adaptation of The Box of Delights when I was a little boy, but the real heart of it, I increasingly think, was rather perfectly expressed by a fellow Irishman.
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child's soul, we'll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we'll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We'll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we'll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won't we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason's payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God's breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.
That was Patrick Kavanagh's 1942 poem 'Advent'. I've always liked Kavanagh, who was a great man for the wink-and-elbow language of delight, even though he lived his own life with his bank of youth having been burgled by Monaghan's stony grey soil.

I liked him when I was in school and though I'm sure I heard it then, it was many years later that I really discovered the sheer profundity of 'Epic'. Now there's a poem...

No comments: