LYRIC COMPANION Verses from Old Irish “A busy yellow bee”

A busy yellow bee / who makes / a not insignificant journey / flying joyfully out / over the great plain / in the sun / pausing at blossom after blossom / cup after cup // and then happily back again / to rejoin / the orderly community of the hive

Anonymous, translated and edited by Geoffrey Squires, MY NEWS FOR YOU: IRISH POETRY 600-1200 (Shearsman Books, 2015)

FRAME of REFERENCE Perhaps we are like the Ridiculous Man of Dostoevsky ‘s tale whose evil eye has introduced corruption into the world. The corruption blossoms as the counterfeit world whose mingling of life and death mimics life—but it really serves death. Unlike the Ridiculous Man we now refuse the dream he had of the inexpressible goodness of the true life beyond the counterfeit one. [p. 229]…The agapeics transforms the social space of our between- being, consecrates it into a neighborhood of love wherein neighboring, as a “being beside,” is neither simply passive nor simply active. It is not passive, though it is in receiving, and hence there is a loving patience to it. It is not active, since it is not simply a construction, though we have to constructively engage with others in the neighborhood. We receive and do ourselves in the neighborhood. [p. 411] WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Univeral (2016)

The presence of Lyric in modern culture IS subversive. It undermines the hegemony of the idealist image with the narrative of passage. Whereas the rule of autonomy — that the fullness of being is the self-defined individual — has created an Ultimate in an image of Eros, the lyric narrative sustains an understanding of life as plurivocal community devoted to finite others. Call that the order of Agape.

Squire’s translations from the Old Irish lyric supply brilliant examples of the lyric narrative. They sometimes feel like fragments — ARE fragments grammatically speaking — but stand on their own. They stand on their own because the unit of meaning in lyric is not the “image“ of the autonomous self but the porosity of that self in passage, in community.

The expansion of the image of passage by participles — flying, pausing— is especially felicitous. The whole sense of the step-by-step unfolding rounds off in the image of return.

As we struggle to conceive of the post-capitalist world, lyric is an invaluable resource. (In the FRAME of REFERENCE I submit two points of view relevant to the case.) Squires’ carefully wrought syntax creates a double image of action and intention— of animal being in passage. Phrases like “not insignificant” and “joyfully” may trigger the Ridiculous Man in us, as may the whole of the final section.

“Orderly community” is not ideological but a complex image of lives in passage, in communication. The “Between” of the busy yellow bee we recognize, if only unconsciously, as our own ON A GOOD DAY. The event of unconscious recognition is inseparable from poetry, however. That’s the “Medieval” part?

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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