• David Carlson

952: How far (and deep) does your field of vision range?

Day 952: Monday, October 24, 2022

How far (and deep) does your field of vision range?



Field of Vision by Geoff Wood and Seamus Haney


That’s the title of a poem written by Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who died in his

prime at 74 years of age in 2013. He won a Nobel Prize for his work, taught at

Oxford and Harvard, was the first of nine siblings born on a farm in Northern

Ireland, Catholic . . . His production was enormous, a poet by career.


The poem has a kind of mystical tone although it seems simply to be about an old woman

who sits day after day staring out a window. It goes:


I remember this woman who sat for years

In a wheelchair, looking staight ahead

Out the window at sycamore trees unleafing

And leafing at the far end of the lane.

Straight out past the TV in the corner,

The stunted, agitated howthorn bush,

The same small calves with their backs to wind and

rain,

The same acre of ragwort, the same mountain.



Hardly worth mentioning, it seems. There’s nothing extraordinary about the poet’s

description, about an old woman in a wheelchair. And yet, he begins to see more; he

continues:


She was steadfast as the big window itself.

Her brow was clear as the chrome bits of the chair.

She never lamented once and she never

Carried a spare ounce of emotional weight.



Face to face with her was an education

Of the sort you got across a well-braced gate --

One of those lean, clean, iron, roadside ones

Between two whiewashed pillars, where you could see

Deeper into the country than you expected

And discovered that the field behind the hedge

Grew more distincly strange as you kept standing

Focused and drawwn in by what barred the way.


In other words, the poet himself, in observing this woman and the persistence of her

seemingly empty stare, was himself beginning to see something “strange” that was

emerging from that everyday landscape, enticing us as well, despite our hesitancy, to

acquire a truer understanding of ourselves and our destiny.


Which makes me think: may not this poem offer us a key to understanding today’s

Gospel parable of the arrogant Pharisee and the Humble man?



The Pharisee in the parable can’t see past his own perfect self, his own

good deeds. He even measures them out (fasts twice a week, pays a tenth of his income)

as the proof he and God need to justify his self-satisfaction: I thank you God that I am not

like the rest of the human race. In other words: he is so self-centered as to be blind!



Whereas the tax collector as a Jew in the employ of Rome’s bureaucracy and very

remorseful of his betrayal of his people, knew himself better than the Pharisee knew

himself. From a distance he senses God can be merciful.


In other words, like the woman in the wheelchair, the sinner was learning to see past the

God of the Pharisee to the God whom Jesus saw, one of absolute sympathy, grace,

understanding, cultivation, ready to embrace you as you are – as fragile, as worth more

than you realize – inspiring you to see deeper into the country than you expected,


discovering that field behind the hedge (and all that hedges you in) – that field that grows

more distinctly strange (and graced) as you keep focused and drawn in, despite whatever

and whoever would bar your way. How far (and deep) does your field of vision range?


- By Geoff Wood


Field of Vision - Seamus Heaney

I remember this woman who sat for years

In a wheelchair, looking staight ahead

Out the window at sycamore trees unleafing

And leafing at the far end of the lane.

Straight out past the TV in the corner,

The stunted, agitated howthorn bush,

The same small calves with their backs to wind and

rain,

The same acre of ragwort, the same mountain.

She was steadfast as the big window itself.

Her brow was clear as the chrome bits of the chair.

She never lamented once and she never

Carried a spare ounce of emotional weight.

Face to face with her was an education

Of the sort you got across a well-braced gate --

One of those lean, clean, iron, roadside ones

Between two whiewashed pillars, where you could see

Deeper into the country than you expected

And discovered that the field behind the hedge

Grew more distincly strange as you kept standing

Focused and drawwn in by what barred the way.

Heaney paid tribute to his aunt (DOD 171: There was something in our relationship, whatever it was, that stood still … For years she was crippled with arthritis and eventually had to have her bed brought downstairs into what had been our sitting room … My memories of those years in the 1970s, before she had to go into special care in the Mid-Ulster Hospital, are of arriving with Marie and the kids from Wicklow and greeting first of all my mother and father and sister Ann in the living room, then going in to sit with Mary.


Not a lot getting said or needing to be said. Just a deep, unpathetic stillness and wordlessness. A mixture of lacrimae rerum (tears for the situation) and Deo gratias (praise be to God). Something in me reverted to the child I’d been in Mossbawn. Something in her just remained constant, like the past gazing at you calmly, without blame. She was a tower of emotional strength, unreflective in a way but undeceived about people or things. I suppose all I’m saying is that I loved her dearly.


- Seamus Haney


Important Announcement:

Upcoming Event with Diarmuid O'Murchu


Please put this on your calendar and invite friends and family and Interfaith folks

(files to share in PDF and JPG formats below.


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