|From Rachel Giese's Sweeney's Flight|
- Seamus Heaney, Sweeney Astray
* * *
The mad king, Sweeney, cursed by the cleric Ronan to forever roam, transformed into a bird, removed from his life, is, near the end of his trials, offered the kindness of milk in a dung hole. I am unfailingly moved by this.
* * *
My first attempts at poetry were to use Heaney's words as a starting point, a guide, a cheat sheet and write of the mad bird king. Like Heaney before me, I saw myself in Sweeney: arrogance brought low only to be redeemed by the feral loneliness of words. (I am Irish, it clings to me like wet wool.)
And what will redeem you from your madness?
It is madness to live as anything other than who you are. Must you be transformed into a rook, a skittering bird to see who you are in your essential, naked form? This is the criminal arrogance, the debilitating hubris: to pretend you are that which you are not.
It is a habit of mind to try and improve one's self, but that just keeps you running in circles. It is completeness you should be after, your full self, your true self writ large upon your time. I don't need to improve a single thing if, like Popeye and God, I am that I am. To be anything else is to be fucked. You know that, right?
* * *
The madness of Sweeney, his torment is not because he's been cursed into a lunatic bird, but because he did not live as he might and so was transformed by that decision. In his new, feathery skin he laments what he's lost and comes to sing songs of praise for the natural world, the world as it is. The madness of waiting for time to ripen before you act, the madness of waiting at all to be that which you are brings you to ruin. Instead of a bird, are you a cow grazing on a quiet hillside? Your days contentedly the same, your range sweet and calm, the days indistinguishable from one to the next until the day you are carted off to the abatoir? There is more to it than this. There is more to living than breathing. There is more to your life than you have shown.
Riddle me this. What are you waiting for?
It is not perfection or non-attachment or any other voodoo mind-fuck that you have to achieve or attain. It is simpler and harder than that: be yourself, completely. That may mean you are a paranoid bird lamenting what's been lost, eating watercress from cold streams and drinking milk from dung holes. And if that is who you are, then so be it. Like Sweeney, you will find kindness in the corner of milk yards and exaltation in tree tops. To be fucked is to be other than you are.
There is a balm for every woe and forgiveness attends the one who is.
* * *
All the same, I would prefer
a hollow tree and Sweeney bare–
that sweetest game we used to play–
to banqueting with him today.
I tell you Sweeney, if I were given
the pick of all in earth and Ireland
I'd rather go with you, live sinless
and sup on water and watercress.
I wish we could fly away together,
be rolling stones, birds of a feather:
I'd swoop to pleasure you in flight
and huddle close on the roost at night.
* * *