A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019. © M. E. Brinton, 2019 Moonstruck, photographic art by Ramona du Houx In the faint moonlight the sea glimmers, a sailboat rocks in the swell of small waves. The Celtic gloom of ancient legends is described as a plaintive voice of wind and sea, […]
A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019.
© M. E. Brinton, 2019
Moonstruck, photographic art by Ramona du Houx
In the faint moonlight the sea glimmers, a sailboat rocks in the swell of small waves. The Celtic gloom of ancient legends is described as a plaintive voice of wind and sea, a dim shimmer of extra radiance across water, where the heart and mind blend in subtle harmony. Sometimes seals call in the cove; nothing is still in this path of the night seas of a Maine island or the Scottish Hebrides, so similar. It is remindful of the Celtic legend of Tír na nÓg.
Times of day and night mingle in several breaths between sunrise, sunset, and moonrise. In sunrise the morning brings wonder, a rowboat’s oars dip and lift, with all the little sailboats waking from sleep. There are sharp clangs of buoys, masts clicking, gulls stretching necks before they fly to the wharf, where the fishing boats are readying.
Then comes the sunset, setting into dream. Isle folk will be resting at home, the women and children having tended to the family sheep, cow and gardens. Often a harp and fiddle get played then; perhaps if the people are not too tired, the night will be different with songs.
There might be someone too weary who wanders from the music to watch the moonlight. She thinks of the songs, humming their melodies. She keeps her own mind in tune with her heart that way. As she looks across the moonlit sea path, this longing of hers has no earthly place, and this shimmer of moon is of eternal youth, Tír na nÓg, where thoughts of loved ones gone on come to her.
In the legends and songs of Tír na nÓg, the Place of Eternal Youth is located beyond the sunset of the Western Isles. The island folk imagined a white barge that mysteriously sailed on its own to their shores, to each island, and those people who were ready to go embarked on their last sailing, on this boat in need of no wind nor sail nor rudder. She sped across foam and wave like a seabird, knowing instinctively whom to pick up. Perhaps the boat came at dawn, like a mist lingering in the harbor, or at dusk, as the last gull took shelter in the crevices of shore rocks. Now the wailing might be heard of the sea wife or the children lamenting an elder gone, the last breath taken, and the soul, freed finally of suffering, flown to board the White Barge for Tír na nÓg, Land of the Ever Young.
Here is a line of a Hebridean song which I sang to my mother and father in their older age in evenings, when they missed their children gathered around them. I brought my harp, and they listened with the sweetness of this old age, when even one visitor gave them great joy.
It’ll be in Gaelic first—it’s a language my father heard spoken by his mother—and he perhaps felt comforted in its sea-like lilting.
Bàs no bròn cha bheò ’nad loinnthir Ùir air foill’s air go
Sair sport òl do dheò’s do chaoimneis Aòibhneas snamh’s na neoil
Reultan arda la’s a dh’oidhche Boillsgeadh Sea has tro cheò
A rough translation goes:
By the glimmer of your eyes in darkest night I know,
By the light of love that’s kindled when my love I show,
By the joy that leaps and laughs there like the dancing sea,
By all these I know, Moneean, thou loves me.
And tonight again will light us, O Tír na nÓg.
On a beloved Maine island, these legends from the Celtic lands are close in similar settings. And the tide draws back from the shore, rippling rocks and pebbles, as with memory that neither sorrow nor death dims, as in the distant Beauty-Land at sunset. By day and night, the Isle folk saw gladness in the sea-clouds and stars. These lights over a dark ocean shone through the mist in which sorrow might cling.
Beyond is the peace from yearning, where the White Barge symbolized the final sailing, what the Isle folk had prepared for in their life. Their wishes sped silently as a swift bird such as the oyster catcher across a bay, into silence at dusk. Then could the White Barge come to them in their dreams, taking them to Tír na nÓg. Maybe a family member sang quietly of this final sailing. The passing and reaching into the sea bliss. O beautiful sailboat in moonlight over the coves, bays, inlets of islands. Here is mystery in a legend lingering to dawn.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019 was published after a contest for writers to create stories to accompany art photography that depicted Rockland and the coast in its myriad situations, moods and emotions. This story was published in the book along with 27 others.
An overwhelming 88 stories were submitted for the contest. In the end seventeen writers were chosen. Their stories are told with depth, insight, candor, irony, wit and humor. Anyone who has every visited Maine’s coast will be able to relate to them. They’ve put humankind’s instinctive emotional connection with the sea into words.
The Maine Humanities Council provided a grant for our project that enabled the Solon Center to donate books to libraries across Maine. MHC is a statewide non-profit organization that uses the humanities, “as a tool for positive change in Maine communities.”