During my last visit to Dublin, I bought so many books I had to mail them home. That wasn’t bad enough, but I wasn’t sure if I already owned some of the titles. I thought I should make a list of what I already have and bring it with me next time. And so, a major undertaking looms before me: cataloging all my books.
Fiction and poetry, legends and history, Books for Dummies, where to begin? Submarines and helicopters vie for space with portal tombs and ancient Celts, cookbooks crowd the writing how-to’s, mysteries share space with travel guides, Native Americans with Banshees.
I think I’ll take time out to tell you about one of my recent Dublin acquisitions, An Old Woman’s Reflections, an account of the life of Blasket Island storyteller Peig Sayers (1873-1958), the "Queen of the Gaelic Storytellers." I like to think I’m a pretty good storyteller, but this lady leaves me in the dust. Her son documented these recollections of her life and times on the now uninhabited Great Blasket Island in County Kerry. Reading the turns of phrases translated from Gaelic to English is wonderful exercise for anyone’s imagination.
Peig talked a lot about ears. She would say "I was old-wise enough to give a listening ear to the tailor." Or if she thought she had misheard a phrase, "I don’t know did my ears take it with them correctly."
She didn’t neglect the eyes, mouths, or hands, either. "You wouldn’t lay an eye on anyone who had his own natural color," she said of a group of frightened people. "Take the string off your mouth and let’s have them," the command to a reticent speaker. Her account of the man who gave her and her friend directions on the mainland: "While you’d be clapping your two hands together, he had swept us on the road north."
The language kept me shaking my head in delight. A stingy man "hadn’t the heart of a mouse." And one of my favorites, "You’d think nobody ever died, there were so many people there."
Peig’s book is all too short, probably why I opted to read it first. Yet I was reminded that good things come in small packages—and they come in big ones too. Right now I’m plowing my way through a mighty one, The Rattle Bag, a wonderful collection of poems from all over the world, first published in 1982 and put together by poets Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.
Poetry baffles me. I read it to find new ways of describing things, but I don’t understand a lot of it. This anthology, however, offers plenty to entertain, from poets I’ve never read before (Norman MacCaig - Aunt Julia) to beloved poems I recall well (Birches by Robert Frost).
Despite my good intentions, I doubt I’ll ever succeed in finishing (or even starting) my inventory of books. I stop too much to read the darn things.