John O’Donohue’s Ancient Celtic Wisdoms and Modern Longings: A Show of Remembrance
“It’s strange to be here,” John O’Donohue wrote, referring to life. “The mystery never leaves you.” And creating this show has been a lovely, if strange and mysterious, experience.
O’Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher beloved for his books, including Anam Ċara — Gaelic for “soul friend” — and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. I sat down with him in the fall of 2007 for a wide-ranging, two-hour conversation. Then just a few months later, before it could go to air, he died in his sleep, suddenly, at the age of 52. And so this hour of conversation (mp3, 51:00) has become a remembrance of him.
We’re putting his lovely, lively, exuberant voice out there in the world, as it touched so many the first time. And he would surely see this as a serendipitous continuation of his life’s work — of bringing ancient Celtic wisdom to modern confusions and longings.
We ended the show with his reading of “Beannacht,” a poem of blessing he wrote for his mother upon the death of his father. A number of listeners who read and loved John O’Donohue’s work have written to us as we began to post this and other poems he read to me during our interview:
And when your eyes
the gray window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colors,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
And we’ve posted our research into the beautiful, essential music for this show — including the style of Gaelic singing called sean-nos and the helpful contributions of an Irish listener from Belfast.
“Music,” John O’Donohue said to me, “is what language would love to be if it could.”