Thursday, September 4, 1997

The Sky is Falling

A WELSH poet in living in Amsterdam’s benign exile, deep in his cups, lamented how we Celts suffer from a racial lack of confidence: A nation without a language; a nation without a heart. I dreamed I had to memorize 5 lines in Welsh—just sounds, no images. Each new line forced out the old one. Though I speak no Welsh, I awoke holding the cadence of a sister tongue in my mouth. I told him we’re archaic sentinels from a culture (and languages) stubbornly hovering on the brink of extinction for centuries on end.

In Louven, I found an arch, deciphered the Old Irish: another university founded by Irish monks in the so-called Dark Ages. Hibernius ipsis Hiberniores. Johannes Scottus Eriugena (Seán, the Irishman b. 810), a founder of the continental universities, taught at Laon and at the Paris Court School (when he wasn’t being accused of heresy. His doctrines championed free will long before Luther’s). He wrote: Nothing is more laborious than to fight against stupidity for it won’t bend to any authority and it won’t be convinced by reason. Punning in Latin, the king made a playful swipe at Eriugena, asked him the difference between a fool and a Scot (Irishman). The hot-blooded Eriugena replied, “Only the table.” (Quid distat inter sottum et scottum). Seated across from the scholar, the king was flabbergasted by the turned tables! But it is said satire was the first art form in Ireland. Or was it war?

One of Alexander of Macedonia’s generals, during negotiation of a peace treaty, queried a Celtic chieftain: What do you Celts fear most? The Gaul contemptuously replied: That the sky should fall upon our heads. How does one come to terms with Cenedl heb raith; cenedl heb galon: A nation without a language; a nation without a heart. I prefer phrases like Tá grá agam ort or Yr wyf yn du garu to the names of war. Words from the Irish: slogan: sluagh garim, a Celtic battle cry, and furor is to blood-summon. Glamour, corrupted grammar, this fierce love of words is in the blood. The dark, threatening sky again. Tantrum. I write in the enemy tongue, my own asleep.

©1997 revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

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