Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Blackbird and the Praying Saint

Here's a poem I wrote this week about the legend of St. Kevin and the blackbird. I stumbled across this story for the first time a few days ago, and since I am a lover of birds, solitary prayer, and ancient Celtic Christianity, it took hold of my imagination. Saint Kevin (Coemgen in Irish) was a historical figure of the 6th century, noted especially for his relationships with animals and his work as a monastic founder in the area of Glendalough. (Incidentally, while I was working on my poem, I discovered that this legend was also the subject of a much more famous poem, by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. It's definitely worth a read.)

The Blackbird and the Praying Saint

Before he came to Glendalough,

Before his bed of stone gave rest,

Saint Kevin was a Cornwall monk,

And learned from Saint Petroc the bless’d.

Some men are fashioned for the crowd,

For hearty smiles and time with friends;

But Kevin, no, not one of these:

His were the mountains and the glens.

The company of saints and monks

Would be his calling and his kin;

But in his heart he longed to be

Among the wilds and the wind.

And so he took much time alone

Amid the hours in abbey walls,

To play the hermit on the hill,

Where skylark soars and blackbird calls.

One Lententide he prayed up there,

All by himself, but not alone;

For with him all creation prayed

Where river ran and sunlight shone.

He prayed with mind and with his mouth,

His heart confessed its sinful dross;

And with his body too he prayed,

His arms outstretched in holy cross.

Then on his palm he felt the touch

Of tiny feet and tiny claws;

He saw a blackbird roosting there,

And in its beak a clutch of straws.

It fashioned in his outstretched hand

A nest for raising up its chicks;

And there it settled, all at peace,

Within its bowl of straw and sticks.

Saint Kevin held the nest aloft

In sacred rev’rence of its load;

And he with bird, in patience prayed

Above the monastery road.

The eggs were laid, and still he stood

Like Moses o’er the battle fray,

And angels were his Aaron, Hur,

Upholding arms stretched out to pray.

Day after day he stood there, still,

While eggs were hatched inside the nest;

And chicks were fledged, and stood, and flew,

Before Saint Kevin earned his rest.

The legend says he stood in prayer

‘Til mother bird had gone her way;

Her nest had stood on his sure branch

All through that Lent, to Easter day.

Sometimes in life we are the bird,

And need a place of peace to rest;

So fly unto the holy cross,

And there alone construct your nest.

The cross will hold you, it is sure,

For it is fixed in God’s great love;

And at the cross you are upheld

By Christ himself, who reigns above.

And sometimes too we are the saint,

Called to stand and wait in prayer;

So be the blessing this world needs,

Be Saint Kevin, if you dare:

Your prayers, your love, can be the tool

To grant your neighbors peace from strife;

So persevere in loving prayer,

And bring the blessing through to life.