Caught by the River

The Darkling Winter

Kerri ní Dochartaigh | 17th December 2019

‘The Darkling Winter’
[a heart-hurt hymn of hope]

by Kerri ní Dochartaigh

Kerri captured at our recent Bristol event by Wendy Barrett

Light has leaked into this wee, white room; through the pillars of space on either side of the material covering most – but not all – of the window. Like light spilling into the sheugh, the shuck – on the laneway just around the curve; space cut away beside the hedgerow to allow two cars to pass one another safely – and with carved, mucky care.  Like as though light were dipping and diving – swallow-swift, and dancing; into the gaps in a line of music. The curtain is a temporary, temporal thing, and it seems as though it could know it.  It is real as time, as unreal as the same; it cannot keep the winter light from flooding the morning like an ebb and flow of snow, or a flight of cabbage whites.

The light that has filled the room with its own softly singing self, has arrived on Friday the thirteenth of December, in the last month of the decade. I have awoken to rattling, roaring winds that shake the trees; the laneway is a wild and squally sea.

I left England last night at 21.25, on a plane from Gatwick, bound for Dublin. I left behind a night full of hard, driving rain; an airport full of Christmas lights that did not twinkle; that did not sparkle or flicker – lights of LED flame, and of crown-blooded, embedded blueness. The body of land I left was one stuck in the thick of a General Election; following three and a half horrific, farcical years, of something that pretended to be Politics. The land I left was hurtling towards the brink; the shivery winter air was silvered by something, and it was whispering of newly forming things; like a crescent moon above a quiet chalk path. 

The country that I left was a country full of such division –  the rich red of courage, and of the fire of new hope – against a blue that seemed to hurtle ever closer; into a bleak, and bruising blackness – a shade that hides the light away from those who need its glow the very most.

The future of this land is terrifying, dark and cold. 

Waken up, all Ye who have sleepwalked your way through this life. 
Ye have taken our glimmers of light, our fires and our winged hope, and tried to bury them in the darkling earth. 
We will not be silenced, though. We will grow wings, we will gather; we will trace the outlines for a new world. 
Our voices will be the echo that the earth sends back. Our warmth needs shared more properly than it has ever done before. 
Our togetherness will need to write a whole new language. 
We must rise together, like skylarks; a golden exultation. 
There is no other way to journey through the dark, than to shine out like gold.

Like star-might, 

                              like moth-light, 

                                                            like lark-height; 

                                                                                                like feather-white; 

                                     hope-bright; on this mourning-night.

Our voices will be the thread – red and strong – that binds our broken land of humans back together. Our words will be the gifts – echoing and bright – that remind us what it means to be blood and bone; what the word for human is.

The laneway is wakening to the same news as me, I can feel it in the way the trees move, the way the mistlethrushes craaaawk; in the way the mud will not give beneath my feet. The light is here and there, flitting between the trees with the wren and the robin; the rosehips are playing with the ivy’s shadow. Ireland’s ancient heart – the lonely land here in the middle; is listening to a hymn that reaches her from somewhere else. From just over the border – in the North of this rocky, divided island, from England – that land I left last night, from Scotland, from Wales; from places so near that she can nearly sing along.

The song is somber, it is deeper than the longest night; the song is one of sorrow, and of fright.  The singing is loud, it echoes all around the laneway; miles from any of its singers – the song rises up, up! – it falls on the oak-hiding bog; on the swans that catch the moon, in the lake beyond the lane. 

I look to the sky, heart-hurt for all that might have been – now lost – heart-hurt for the future that lay in seed – now trampled; heart-hurt for the hurt hearts of those who gave so much to make it all OK. 

The moon – on the wane – a cold, winter mourning white; looks down, and I can hear the song. I can hear the gaps between the notes, I can hear the dips and dives; I can hear the space that has been carved for me – for you; I can hear the still point where I know we all must meet.

We are still here. We are still in this. We are still singing.

We are still here, in this murky, darkling winter world; together, singing.





(the word for human is hope)