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Blessings

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Irish hills, folk music and David Whyte’s poetry form a fleeting, meditative moment

‘I thank you … for the way my ears open even before my eyes, as if to remember the way everything began with an original, vibrant note.’

You could easily mistake David Whyte’s ‘Blessing’ poems for prayers. His words marvel at everyday sublimity and express gratitude to some unseen ‘you’. But scrutinise his words and you’ll find language that, while steeped in his Irish-Catholic upbringing, doesn’t express a creed. Rather, it conveys what he refers to as ‘the conversational nature of reality’ – a sense that there’s a distinct intimacy and presence beyond oneself in each fleeting moment, if you’re willing to contemplate it. His ‘you’ is ubiquitous – no leap of faith required.

If these ‘conversations’ are often drowned out by daily distractions and planning, the US-based filmmaker Andrew Hinton builds a scene where they cry out for attention in this short film, which adapts two of Whyte’s ‘Blessing’ poems – ‘Blessing for Sound’ and ‘Blessing for the Light’. Whyte, born in England to an Irish mother, possesses what he calls a ‘movable frontier’ of an accent, which here errs towards his setting – an Irish landscape of rolling green hills, barren trees and unswimmable oceans tugged by fierce winds. The only human presence is Whyte and the stone walls carving up the countryside.

‘The art of blessing, the art of calling in the invisible help of the divine, is ever present to the Celtic mind,’ writes the musician and composer Owen Ó Súilleabháin in Emergence Magazine, reflecting on his score for the short film. It incorporates one of the oldest recordings of traditional Irish music in existence – a 1905 wax cylinder recording of a song called ‘Cé Phort Láirge’ (Waterford Quay). You needn’t understand the words to know that it’s a mournful cry, captured on a fragile medium.

Courtesy of Irish Traditional Music Archive

These three elements – words, music and landscape – bring Whyte’s philosophy into vivid form, collapsing past and present, and interior and exterior worlds, into a moment. The result is a work that offers a fleeting invitation to, in Whyte’s words, ‘[stand] in the ground of your life fully’.

Director: Andrew Hinton

Producer: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

Poet: David Whyte

Musician and Composer: Owen Ó Súilleabháin

3 February 2021