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Posts Tagged ‘patrick kavanagh’

During the last few days of October, when Hurricane Sandy was threatening Western New York, state and local officials advised us as to the important documents we should take with us in the event of an evacuation: deeds, home-insurance policies, birth certificates, passports, and the like. In preparation, we should assemble those documents and place them in a waterproof envelope.

Sound advice, to be sure. But as I read that official list, I thought of a less than official item I would add to it: the file of documents I have kept for years under my father’s well-worn Bible. Contained in that file are notes, letters, and cards from friends and family, including letters from my deceased mother; birthday cards from my wife; holiday cards from my daughter-in-law; and a variety of notes from my son, some of them dating from his early childhood. Unlike the policies and passports, those documents are irreplaceable. And all were written by hand, which makes them all the more valuable.

That value, I might point out, is more than sentimental. It is historical and spiritual. The novelist Philip Hensher, author of The Missing Ink (Macmillan, 2012), has argued, with ample corroboration, that “we are at a moment when handwriting seems to be about to vanish from our lives,”* having been supplanted by the printed—and now the digital—word. If Hensher is right, we would do well to cherish whatever handwritten documents remain extant, irrespective of their author or content.  But even if we believe that handwriting, having survived for 5000 years, will always be with us, the act of writing by hand is worthy of renewed attention, if not of veneration. For in the handwritten word, it might be said, the authentic human self is concretely embodied. And the handwritten note or letter, however rough or polished, affords a depth of intimacy between writer and reader that print can only approximate. Little wonder that the world’s great spiritual traditions, Zen included, have accorded the handwritten word—or character—a place of honor, whether the handwritten text be the Torah, the Quran, the Heart Sutra, or the Book of Kells. (more…)

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One April morning, twenty-five years ago, I found myself speaking with an elderly Irish farmer in his newly ploughed field. At the time I was living in County Monaghan, a rural midland county on the border with Northern Ireland. Prior to coming to Ireland, I had been reading the poems of Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967), who grew up on a farm in Monaghan and felt confined by the “black hills” of his native landscape. At the age of thirty-four Kavanagh left the family farm for Dublin and went on to become the most influential Irish poet of his time. The Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has acknowledged his debt to Kavanagh’s work.

“I knew Paddy,” the farmer told me, leaning on his spade. “His father was a shoemaker. His mother couldn’t read or write. His fields were up there, over that hill. Paddy kept his books in his fence—in between the stones. I’d see him reading there for hours at a time. He was not a good farmer, not good at all. He paid no heed to his fields.” As if to clinch the point, he drove his spade forcefully into the soil. (more…)

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