Seamus, Who Came to Live Among Us

(for Seamus Kelegnan, 189-? – 1932 )

We buried him in a quiet corner of the churchyard,
under the shadow of the trees, not far
from the lichened Ogham stone.
His bearers were all young farming lads,
friends with whom he’d gather at the Fisherman’s
once or twice, or thrice, a week to talk of how things were
with them, and sing.
The Reverend had good words for him, which,
with all the crowded years gone by
I cannot fully now recall –  
how, although he had come among us as a stranger,
his kindliness of spirit had endeared him to us all;
how, although he had never forsaken
nor even been known to have professed –
a guessed Catholicism,
he had each Sunday been as faithful to Saint Eirion’s little llan
as he might have been to Brigid’s.

Slowly, inch by inch, they lowered him at last
it seemed an age – into the ground.
And when the first shovelful of earth had clashed upon the oaken box
I closed my hands about my face,
for it was as though the sound of it had echoed far and wide,
up to the people in the distant whitewashed farms
high upon the patchwork slopes of sheer-faced Carn Edeyrn,
among the workers toiling in the further far-off fields,
and to the fishers in their bobbing boats out in the bay –
and that it burst upon the air, for them,
like a mighty clap of thunder,
and they would stop in their worldly tasks
and look up at the cloud-hung sky and say:
“Oh, they are casting the earth upon the grave
of poor young Seamus Kelegnan today’.

Back home, I took a last look at his room,
and at the little he’d possessed.
His working clothes, his box of tools, small change
placed neatly in a pile. No photographs. No mail.
He had never, either, spoken of his age; I think perhaps
he had not exactly known of that himself.
Nothing there to show who he had been, nor from
what place he’d come; and so
no family with whom we could communicate
the tidings of his passing –
if any kin remained to him across that restless sea.

From ‘Welsh Past and Present’

8 thoughts on “Seamus, Who Came to Live Among Us

  1. This is such an emotionally charged piece of writing, a really moving description of a simple event that makes me genuinely sad. Although written in almost a matter-of-fact style, it makes me sad I did not know Seamus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you, Cicymru. I won’t say I’m glad I made you sad, but it’s good to know that the poem had it’s effect.

      Like

    1. Thank you, Roma. I feel sad about Seamus myself – a good man, and well liked by all in that small coastal community in west Wales.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This very moving poem reminds me of many an hour spent in a deserted graveyard wondering at the stories behind the inscriptions on some of the gravestones. Here the story is known, of course, and so well told by this most accomplished of story-tellers. I love the different moods of the three stanzas, the first concluding as it does by recording Seamus’s faithful attendance at the little church in Wales despite his assumed Catholicism, the widespread sorrow expressed in the metaphysicality of Stanza 2 and the poignancy of the factual description of Seamus’s simple possessions in Stanza 3. It was sad to see that he died so young and that there were no known relatives to inform.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is lovely- I particularly like the internal rhyme of ‘professed a guessed Catholicism’ as well as ‘cloud-hung sky’. The description of the effect of the sound of the earth on the coffin is absolutely fantastic- like the epiphany in The Prelude. I love the way that sound radiates across the landscape and the people. I love the specific details of real places too- reminds me of Heaney.

    Liked by 3 people

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