ST. KEVIN AND THE BLACKBIRD
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.
The Spirit Level (1996)
Listen to Seamus Heaney read “St. Kevin and the Blackbird“
THE BIRD-WATCHER REMEMBERS
TALKING ABOUT SAINT KEVIN’S BLACKBIRDS
WHILE ON A PLANE
Fall 2004 – British Columbia, Canada to Chicago, IL
I was flying back from Canada to
Chicago, from the Pacific Northwest,
full of rainy pines, to the Midwest where
it was much colder. But my heart in my breast
was warm. I was sitting beside Kevin,
who told me of his Irish name-sake saint,
a man who opened his palms to pray at Lent
and held so still, a blackbird built her nest
in his hands, and all her hatchlings were born
safe in his prayers and in his gentle palms.
The baby blackbirds grew and flew far ’way
from the patient saint–to new lakes and lands.
This all happened long ago like a dream,
like a kiss that leaves you wond’ring what it means.
The Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries, 2nd Ed. (2011)