I meant to write about St. Patrick’s Day. Something about Irish heritage (of which I am), or something about the written word. I thought about writing about Irish (Irish Gaelic), and how it became a “discouraged” language around 1600. I thought about the role of Celtic women, about Presbyterianism, about Saint Patrick. I thought about poems and songs that incite us to rally to a cause or a heritage. About the history of American St. Patrick’s Day parades. About fire stations that use Celtic/Irish imagery, despite current multiculturalism, because historically, they were predominantly Irish lads. I thought about the stereotype of the Irish drunkard, which came not from drink, but from teetotalling, because being so poor after arriving in New York in the 1800s, that pretending one was drunk would at least get you a night in the drunk tank, so you wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets.
But it’s hard to think about Irish history right now. There is much history can teach us, and it is important to look on that as well, but right now, in our time of waiting, we need Art to alleviate the anxiety. We are coming to a time of crisis, and this is when the Arts excel. In times of plenty and peace, music, visual arts, and language seem superfluous, unnecessary even. But it is now, when we are uncertain and scared that we need Art more than ever.
On later days of your quarantine, as you watch numbers climb, have rearranged your pantry, and binged every TV show that has been recommended, you’ll turn to the written word. From eagerly-awaited emails from far-flung loved ones, to a snippet of a poem you saw on an Instagram post, this will give comfort.
We are social creatures, and humans thrive on community comforts (even us introverts, just in moderation). We need to be touched, to be gazed at, to be acknowledged. The written word is safe. Even Shakespeare, dead these 400 years, sees you. Mary Oliver, a poet whose work is often about solitary communion with nature, and who died last year, she sees you.
This time of turmoil need not make you lonely. Turn to the written word, the comfort of another’s perspective.
I’ll leave you with a poem about the future, instead of the past. Do you have any poems or stories that you turn to for solace?
By Mary Oliver
in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers
Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).