In a word ... merry

 

It was on the Dart into town and a young man was standing staring at a Yeats poem put in the carriages last year to mark the 150th anniversary of the great poet’s birth in 1865.

I tried to guess from the young man’s demeanour which of the poems it was, as he read. His gaze was steady, intense, serious. I was reminded of Yeats’s The Stolen Child and its line “. . . away with us he’s going, The solemn-eyed.”

But I decided it wasn’t that poem as it has a lightness of touch, rhythm and sentiment that overcomes the sense of that thrice repeated refrain: “For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

He just gazed and gazed without reaction. Nothing. I decided he was either puzzled by what he was reading or so overcome by emotion, anger even, it rendered him expressionless. So I concluded he had to be reading either Sailing to Byzantium or September 1913. But I couldn’t decide which. Not wishing to be too obvious, while also trying to reach a more definite conclusion, I waited until he got off before going up the carriage to check which poem it was.

Was I surprised. There in all its happy glory was The Fiddler of Dooney. And I decided the young man had to be either illiterate, had no English or was catatonic. Because it is hard to read that cheery poem without a smile crossing your face. It begins:

“When I play my fiddle in Dooney,

Folk dance like a wave of the sea;

My cousin is a priest in Kilvarnet,

My brother in Mocharabuiee.

But above all there are those wonderful lines:

For the good are always the merry,

Save for an evil chance,

And the merry love the fiddle,

And the merry love to dance.”

Such a lovely word “merry”, And even if the solemn-eyed one didn’t get it.

Christmas salutation

“Merry” from Old English myrge, meaning “pleasing, agreeable, pleasant, sweet; pleasantly, melodiously”. Thought to be related to the Middle Dutch mergelijc, meaning”joyful”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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