March 17, 2014

The Lucky Ones.


Reflections on why we love to be, or become, Irish.

I walked through the grey drizzle of a Dublin afternoon with three friends in the bag slung over my shoulder: James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde. It had been a dream of mine for years to read my favorite Irish authors sitting in a Dublin pub, Guinness in hand, and the dream was finally materializing. As I wandered the streets, hair damp with rain, books thumping against my side, anticipating the warmth of the pub wrapped around my shoulders and the warmth of the beer in my stomach, I marveled at the many reasons there are to fall head over heels in love with Ireland.

I am not biologically Irish, but spiritually Irish, absolutely. Many of us find, when we come upon the Irish way of life, that it feels like home, deep in our bones. We are Irish orphans, finding a lost part of ourselves.

As a mere American, I cannot fully  illuminate the wisdom of the Irish people and their art of living on my own, so I call upon those three Irish masters of the written word,  Joyce, Yeats, and Wilde. Here are a few of the reasons we are hopelessly in love with Ireland.

A belief in magic.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

~W.B. Yeats

“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”

~ W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

“Shut your eyes and see.”

~ James Joyce

A resilient spirit.

“I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use: silence, exile, and cunning.”

~ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“You made me confess the fears that I have. But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.”

~ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“Your battles inspired me; not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.”

~ James Joyce

A sharp, dark wit.

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

~ W.B. Yeats

“The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober.”

~ W.B. Yeats

“I don’t want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there.”

~ Oscar Wilde

“I can resist anything except temptation.”

~ Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

A keen sense of beauty.

“But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.”

~ James Joyce, Araby

“The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”

~ James Joyce, Ulysses

I will arise and go now,
For always night and day
I hear lake water lapping
With low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway
Or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

~ W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree

A passion for literature.

“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”

~ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.”

~ James Joyce

“The phrase and the day and the scene harmonised in a chord. Words. Was it their colours? He allowed them to glow and fade, hue after hue: sunrise gold, the russet and green of apple orchards, azure of waves, the greyfringed fleece of clouds.”

~ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

~ Oscar Wilde

A fondness for the camaraderie of pub life.

“There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.”

~ W.B. Yeats

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

~ Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

“Alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drunkenness.”

~ Oscar Wilde

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”

~ Oscar Wilde

As I sit at my desk now, miles and miles of ocean between myself and that green, grey, beautiful country, I feel the magic of it all creeping back up my spine as I read and re-read the words of these great men. I can almost see them sitting off in a dark corner, smirking at me from behind their pints. And I hear Oscar leaving me with one last, quite Irish remark…

“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Hillary Ryland via Flickr

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