Poetry in Honor of St. Brigid
Back in the day I took many poetry courses and even taught a few as a graduate student. And yet the wonderful thing about poetry is that I am no more an authority than any other person. While poetry is sometimes accused of being obscure or accessible to only a rarified few, I think it exists for everybody. It is ours, and we don’t need anyone to tell us what it means. If anything defines poetry, I think it’s that it speaks directly to the reader. (My old professors would probably faint.)
Being a nosy person, I had to look up St. Brigid. She was Irish, perhaps the daughter of a pagan chieftain and a Christian Pictish slave. (Accounts vary.) According to this article, “Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion which her father Dubhthach practised; Brigid was the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge.” Which is interesting, because before I looked up St. Brigid, I had chosen this poem by Anne Bradstreet.
Here followes some verses upon the burning of our house, July 10th, 1666. Copyed out of a loose paper.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken’d was with thundring nois
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
That fearfull sound of fire and fire,
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spye,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse.
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
ffar be it that I should repine.
He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.
Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.
No pleasant tale shall ‘ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adeiu, Adeiu; All’s vanity.
Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.
Thou hast an house on high erect
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho: this bee fled.
‘Its purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.
A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.
It isn’t the Christian sentiment that I find most striking about this poem — it’s the plaintive tone, and the story it tells. What did she lose in that house fire? Did she have a library of precious books? Did she lose her own poetry? Perhaps they were her store, her pleasant things. Maybe it was some jewelry brought from England, or letters from people she loved but would never see again.
I read, some time ago, about a brave soul who gave away nearly everything she had, keeping only forty things. I wonder what forty things I would keep, and what Anne Bradstreet would have kept. I wonder how close our lists would be.