Write & Wrong

By Emma Pearson

April 2, 2020

7 October 2019

Megan Devine inviting us to respond to John O’Donohue’s poem “For Grief”

Write & Wrong: There’s Nothing Quite Like a bit of Black and White Thinking

Megan Devine is quite right. Sometimes John O’Donohue writes right, and sometimes he writes wrong.

Plain wrong. Irritatingly. Infuriatingly wrong. What is he on? To write so right and write so wrong? Did he start out writing one poem about grief then shift to writing another about non-grief? Did he start with a black pen and then finish off with a golden one? Did he start writing his poem aged 25 and then end it aged 52?

In my humble opinion, in his poem “For Grief”, he writes right and wrong all over the place:

Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way.

(Yes!)

The moment breaks…
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss

(Yes!)

Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief

All of this sounds right – feels right – to me. Grief as an unpredictable force, a bigger and stronger power than that owned by a mere mortal.

BUT then in the same poem, irritatingly, towards the end so that that is some kind of a “lesson” the reader is left with feeling they might, or should, take away, he writes:

Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

(No! There is no last drop, no last tear)

You will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed

(No! I don’t want a bloody invisible form of my departed(s))

And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal

(No! Haven’t you learned that by now? The work of grief is never “done”. It’s never “finished”. It’s not about “healing”, even if it is about “living differently”, “living changed”).

You will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air

(No! I might appear to get used to your absence(s), but I don’t think I shall be ever weaned from looking, from searching for those who are no longer there).

Be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

(NO AND MORE NO!)

Ugh! I feel so bad-tempered. I feel I must be such a kill-joy for all the grievers to come.

It’s what everyone says, isn’t it?

That “his/her love is there, all the time, in your heart”.

“S/he is all around you”.

“In time, you won’t feel sad. You’ll just have the good memories”.

What a load of frigging bollocks.

These are all half-truths. Not real-truths. Pretend truths. Fake truths. Fool’s gold. Ersatz.  

I think we just sort of get used to having a gaping hole (or many) in our hearts. I think we just sort of get the hang of tip-toeing around the edges of multiple craters in what was formerly known as happiness. I think we just sort of become more skilled at navigating – or masking – the dry heaves that sit alongside regular breathing.

Call me a kill-joy if you want. I might still be too close to ground zero. But Mr. O’Donohue, you do not speak my truth. Not today.

——

For Grief, by John O’Donohue

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks…
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal

And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.





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