11 March 2012

Poems for Lent (16): ‘Lenten Communion,’ by Katharine Tynan

‘Sit down with me and taste good cheer: / Too soon, too soon, Thy Passion’s here’(‘Lenten Communion,’ Katharine Tynan) ... the Lenten Altar in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

This morning is the Third Sunday in Lent [11 March 2012], and the readings for the Eucharist in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) are: Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 1: 18-25; John 2: 13-22.

The epistle reading reminds us how the tables may be turned, for ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’ (verse 19), while the Gospel reading is a challenge once again to think about the use and abuse of power.

As I prepare for this morning’s Eucharist with these thoughts in mind, I am challenged by Katharine Tynan’s poem, ‘Lenten Communion,’ which is my choice of a Poem for Lent this morning.

The Irish writer Katharine Tynan (1861–1931), who played a major part in Dublin literary circles, is still remembered for her for her poems and novels.

She was born on 23 January 1861, at Whitehall dairy farm in Clondalkin, Co Dublin, one of 12 children of Andrew Cullen Tynan a cattle farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Reilly Tynan.

She spent most of her childhood on her parents’ farm, and was sent to school at the Siena Convent in Drogheda, Co Louth.

She began writing poetry whilst in her teens, and her first poems were published in Graphic in 1878. She later contributed poems to the Irish Monthly, Hibernia and the Dublin University Review from 1880 to 1885.

In 1884, she fell in love with an Oxford graduate, Charles Fagan. The melancholy love poetry she wrote following his death a year later shows her ability to convey deep feeling.

She first met William Butler Yeats (“all dreams and gentleness”) in June 1885, in connection with CH Oldham’s Dublin University Review. Thus began a life-long friendship with Yeats, who described her as “very plain,” although it is said he once proposed to her. He remained affectionate towards her afterwards, and it was he who advised her in early correspondence to make a speciality of her Irish Catholicism.

Her first book, Louise de la Valliere and Other Poems, was heavily influenced by Christina Rossetti , but Yeats said it was “too full of English influence to be quite Irish.”

Her second volume, Shamrocks, contained exclusively Irish subject-matter.
Her suggestion to Yeats that he should try an Irish subject resulted in Wanderings of Oisin.

She also became friends with the poets Gerard Manley Hopkins and Francis Ledwidge. In 1888 and 1889, her home at Cherryfield House on Firhouse Road was a gathering place for the Sunday Literary Society, which included Katherine Tynan, Maud Gonne and Douglas Hyde. Many of the leaders of the emerging cultural movement visited her at her home, and the painter Jack Yeats painted her portrait.

After her marriage in 1893 to the writer and barrister Henry Albert Hinkson (1865-1919) she usually wrote under the name Katharine Tynan Hinkson (or Katharine Tynan-Hinkson or Katharine Hinkson-Tynan). They moved to England after their marriage, but returned to Ireland during World War I and lived in Claremorris, Co Mayo, where he was a magistrate from 1914 until his death in 1919.

She was a prolific writer, and it was said she could one novel a month. Apart from two anthologies, 16 other collections of poetry, five plays, seven books of devotion, and one book about her dogs, she wrote over 100 popular novels, 12 collections of short stories, and innumerable newspaper articles, including articles on social questions such as child poverty and women’s working conditions.

She also worked for improved conditions for shop girls and single mothers and was an opponent of capital punishment. She campaigned for votes for women, and with Lady Aberdeen she attended the World Congress of Women in Rome in 1914.Her work was marked by an unusual blend of Catholicism and feminism, but always drew from real life.

In 1913, she wrote her memoirs of the Irish literary revival, Twenty-Five Years, which appeared with several dozen of Yeats’s early letters, printed without his permission or giving him an opportunity to make corrections.

She suffered chronic eye ulcers in childhood and was myopic from then onwards. She also suffered from regular bouts of depression throughout her life, particularly after the sudden death of her husband in 1919. However, she kept writing, especially poetry, until her death in Kensal Green, London, on 2 April 1931.

Antoinette Fleming’s Dancers (1988) in the Katharine Tynan Memorial Plot in Tallaght (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Katharine Tynan’s nephews included the comedian Dave Allen (born David Tynan O’Mahony) and his brother Peter Tynan O’Mahony, who was one of the journalists who recruited me to the staff of The Irish Times in the mid-1970s. Both were born in Cherryfield House, but all that remains of the house today are traces of the stone walls and its gardens.

In the middle of Tallaght village, The Dancers is a sculpture is by Antoinette Fleming installed in 1988 in a small pocket park in the corner of the grounds of the Dominican Priory and named the Katharine Tynan Memorial Plot.

This morning’s poem, ‘Lenten Communion,’ is included in her collection of war-time poems, Herb o’ Grace: Poems in War-Time, published in London in 1918.

Lenten Communion by Katharine Tynan

Rest in a friend’s house, Dear, I pray:
The way is long to Good Friday,
And very chill and grey the way.

No crocus with its shining cup,
Nor the gold daffodil is up, –
Nothing is here save the snowdrop.

Sit down with me and taste good cheer:
Too soon, too soon, Thy Passion’s here;
The wind is keen and the skies drear.

Sit by my fire and break my bread.
Yea, from Thy dish may I be fed,
And under Thy feet my hair spread!

Lord, in the quiet, chill and sweet,
Let me pour water for Thy feet,
While the crowd goes by in the Street.

Why wouldst Thou dream of spear or sword,
Or of the ingrate rabble, Lord?
There is no sound save the song of a bird.

Let us sit down and talk at ease
About Thy Father’s business.
(What shouts were those borne on the breeze?)

Nay, Lord, it cannot be for Thee
They raise the tallest cross of the three
On yon dark Mount of Calvary!

So soon, so soon, the hour’s flown!
The glory’s dying: Thou art gone
Out on Thy lonely way, alone.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, ad a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

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