readings from the book of exile

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 This Strange Country

Into this strange country

the godtree grew,

taking root in ground

we did not trust

finding nurture

in some other

earth

unrecognised by us.

 

And here,

among us,

grew a life

that, by and by,

we recognised as living.

 

It discerned the

seasons in a 

climate not our

own.

 

And, strangely,

it has shown us

shelter.

 

Its boughs 

have made

our homes.

 

This short poem by Padraig O Tuama is from a 2012 collection of poems from Canterbury Press in England, readings from the book of exile.  O Tuama is a poet recommended much by, among many others, Peter Rollins who came to Gainesville and talked about his pyro theology, a theology of the fire of the Spirit.  O Tuama lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and takes part in peace and reconciliation initiatives there, as well as in the long reconciliation work of the Corrymeela Community which you can find more about at http://www.corrymeela.org/

This poem, like many of O Tuama’s, is simple and available in ordinary language and grammar.  His poetry is first meant for oral performance, and you can feel that in the directness of his speech, even when, as here, he is developing an image and a metaphor of much resonance with the Gospel.

O Tuama’s poem begins in a riff on an early Western medieval tale that connects the cross of the crucifixion is connected with the Anglo-Saxon tales of all creation as Yggdrasil, the great world tree that connects all life from the depths of fire and ice trolls to the heights of the heavens. Early English acceptance of Christianity melded these different tales, just as the stories of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar as Sons of God from virgin births were matched and developed in early Christian stories of Jesus as the Son of God.

O Tuama for me does two amazing things in this poem.  First, he uses vegetable notions of God and Christ in terms of “the godtree”, growing in another earth, another nutrient and nourish of life, something and somewhere we do not recognize.

But then, in time, with us long we begin to see that this is life indeed, “we recognized as living.”  And once that connection opened, the very seasons and climate of life for us shifts from our ordinary “own”, such a solitary desolate word.

And even more, all that strangeness, rooted in another earth for nourishment, has grown, like the mustard seed of the parable of Jesus, to shelter abundant birds.  Then even beyond “shelter”, the longing of all the people displaced in our lives by geopolitical violence or by being undone out of our lives in dismay  — beyond “shelter”, this tree of the cross, of the mustard seed, of Yggsadril the World Tree, this splinter rooted in “some other/earth”, reaches forth and blossoms in leaves of welcome and shade.

Not just “shelter” we find in this “godtree”, but brought in and home — “Its boughs / have made / our homes.”  Out of roots in a foreign earth, unrecognized by us, arises the welcome home our hearts have longed for.

And that’s just one run amidst the lines and stanzas of the poem.  O Tuama and Rollins and Jesus would all say, run through the leap of words and rhythms in such a simple poem.  We each skip and hold still and jump in our own ways out of our own anxious listening, out of our own fear and longing, and so find each our every way wondering and home.

 

 

2 comments

  1. Thank you, Michael for your reflection. What would be your recommendation for me to get to know his work?

    1. Hi Gail — He has three books of poetry i know of, Exile published in 2012, Sorry for Your Troubles pub in 2013, and some poetry included in In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the world, pub. in 2015. They are all available on Amazon, tho’ a bit expensive. I like to go for used books myself. You can read some and listen to O Tuama at his website: http://www.padraigotuama.com. Cheers!

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