a palm for a blackbird’s nest

With thanks to Heather who pointed me to the legend of St Kevin And The Blackbird. Here’s the mighty Seamus Heaney reading his poem about the same … “a prayer his body makes entirely …”

There’s much in this that resonates with my diggings and delvings at the moment for WIND RESISTANCE. Birds, of course! And also: the qualities (and imaginative and ethical power) of myth; human connectedness to other creatures; the meaning of compassion; the concept of sanctuary (both in terms of Kevin’s historic life as a hermit and his body – in this tale – as a sanctuary for another life); suffering and love and how they elide.

Kevin                                                                                              image by Michael Cook @hallowedart

St Kevin and the Blackbird (1996)

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged  and flown.


And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.


From Seamus Heaney – The Spirit Level (1996)

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