Saturday 21 September 2019

Comfort from the good ghosts

Harold Pinter was the iconic playwright of my formative years. I detested him. Pause. Beat. Silence. I was glad I belonged to a nation of storytellers.

As I got older, I hated his politics. I thought he should stick to the stage. Then he died and Michael Gambon read some lines of his at his graveside and I am humbled. "Allow the love of the good ghost," recited the great actor. "They possess all that emotion trapped. Bow to it . . ."

As I read the lines of a dead man about dead people, and as we face into a time when the only thing we might possess with certainty is the past, I felt there was hope in the whole damn thing. Which is surely the profound function of poetry.

Of course, there are certain universally acknowledged truisms. Like poetry doesn't put bread on the table or philosophy won't pay the mortgage.

Like all truisms they're true. Money is what puts bread on the table; money is what pays the mortgage,

Apparently there isn't going to be a lot of it about for some time. But we were awash with it for at least a decade. And here's another truism -- we weren't very happy, were we?

This isn't post-boom revisionism -- we knew it at the time. We described ourselves as "Time Poor" as we built kitchens you could throw a ball in, bought Irish holiday homes, but had so many foreign holidays there was no time to spend in them. Even as we enjoyed the boom, we knew the shortcoming of so much, so soon. As between time poor and really poor, we all know which we'd choose.

But perhaps, just perhaps in our less boomtime future, we might have time for poetry.

Because if we are to survive the coming downturn, we need to allow the love of the good ghost. Ghosts, who if we allow them, have some moral tales for our time. And we got many good ghosts in the last year.

There is Austin Flannery, the Dominican, who epitomised compassion and tolerance, whose confessional saw all comers, and absolved the mortal and very human sin of masturbation even as Harold Pinter was writing of a moral wasteland.

There is Conor Cruise O'Brien, whose intellectual rigour never dimmed, who hammered home the lesson -- when it was neither popular nor profitable -- that a part-time UDR man is a fulltime human being, who shook us out of complacencies.

And there is Ronnie Drew, who saw life in all its sides and who knew there isn't much that won't be alleviated with a little laughter and song. And a bit of a poem.

There are many more, but as the playwright said: "Allow the love of the good ghost . . . Tender the dead as you would yourself be tendered, in what you would describe as your life."

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