Patrick Kavanagh, Irish Poet

I find that good poetry is an excellent subject for meditation. In the Christian contemplative tradition there is what is known as Lectio Divina, Divine Reading. This has four parts: Lectio, the reading of the text; Meditatio, meditating on it; Oratio, praying on it; and finally Contemplatio, contemplating it. For me the process is of reading the text, then getting the feel and the meaning of it, followed by a kind of putting it in the context of ultimate concern, and finally offering it back to the source with gratitude in silence, seeing it as part of the ineffable, as part of what Katsuki Sekida in Zen Training calls the ‘pathos of things’.

Traditionally scripture was the source, but I find certain writings of poets and others is suitable. In particular, the poems of Patrick Kavanagh elicit this response in me, and I recommend highly his Collected Poems. (I also find certain songs of Van Morrison suitable for this practice.)

As an example consider the following poem. Read it, consider it, pray it, and know that you cannot ever fully grasp the ineffability and mystery of what it points to in a thousand lifetimes, but you know what he means:

To the Man After the Harrow

Now leave the check-reins slack,
The seed is flying far today -
The seed like stars against the black
Eternity of April clay.

This seed is potent as the seed
Of knowledge in the Hebrew Book,
So drive your horses in the creed
Of God the Father as a stook.

Forget the men on Brady’s Hill.
Forget what Brady’s boy may say.
For destiny will not fulfil
Unless you let the harrow play.

Forget the worm’s opinion too
Of hooves and pointed harrow-pins,
For you are driving your horses through
The mist where Genesis begins.

Patrick Kavanagh