Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Song of Amergin - for Samuel

Samuel has been an important name in my life. I have a little grandson called Samuel who will be two next weekend. I have a daft old tabby called Sammy, inherited from my niece when her life circumstances changed. And I had a wonderful father called Samuel whose birthday would have been today, 14th September. Today is not a sad occasion but one to celebrate his life - a day of yellow roses placed beside his picture. I read these lines of poetry at his funeral in the year 2000 and had first came across them in a collection of The Nation's Favourite Poems where it was chosen as 'the first past the post, poll position' - Do not stand at my grave and weep.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
The origins of the poem remain a mystery but I am always struck by its similarities with the ancient Song of Amergin.

There are many versions of this text - I am using the one from Robert Graves' 'White Goddess'. He suggests that the thirteen statements contain hidden significance and correspond with the thirteen Ogham Months of the Year (in the pre-Christian calendar). The words 'I am' and 'I have been' occur frequently in ancient Irish and Welsh poetry and denote a pantheistic conception of the Universe where godhead is everywhere and omnipotent.

I am the stag of seven tines
I am the wide flood on the plain
I am the wind on deep waters
I am the shining tear of the sun
I am a hawk on the cliff
I am fair among flowers
I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke
I am a battle-waging spear
I am a salmon in the pool
I am the hill of poetry
I am a ruthless boar
I am a threatening noise
I am a wave of the sea
Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?