"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

All I Need To Learn I Learn From Children's Books: St. Kevin and the Blackbird (BOOK 7)

Robert Perkins, Seamus Heaney, St. Kevin and the Blackbird,
1989 © Robert Perkins. Courtesy the Artist and Benjamin Spademan Rare Books.
Photo by Louie Fasciolo

St. Kevin and the Blackbird
Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate (1939-2013)

About the Poem

This poem is one that, after reading, its image remains forever. It contains a poignancy conveyed in words as if those are of a sculptor's intricate carvings, or a maestro's musical notes in a grand symphony. Personally, I am blown away and flabbergasted by the resulting artistic creation. Seamus Heaney has depicted for us what true and steadfast love means. What has been known through Sacred Scriptures about doing anything out of love, this time, it comes to us like a breath of fresh air. In 1 Corinthians 13:7, Paul writes, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." In 1 Peter 4:8-10, "Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received."

Let us use the following poem "St. Kevin and the Blackbird" written by Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate (First Irish Catholic to win the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature), and whom I call the poet for these challenging times. The author himself recommended to meditate on the story. Within this poem too is a line that is attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, e.g., "To labour and not to seek reward..." which is found in his Prayer for Generosity. Nota bene: This line has been omitted in the version of the creative poetry reading that follows. I have a little commentary about omissions at the bottom of this post.

Fr JM Manzano, SJ

And then there was St. Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

From The Spirit Level (Faber, 1996), copyright Seamus Heaney 1996

St. Kevin (-3 June 618) founded a monastery at Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland, which spawned a number of daughter monasteries. The city of Glendalough later became a great centre of pilgrimage.

Commentary about the omission:

A measuring stick that I have in omitting parts of an artistic creation is what Ernest Hemingway wrote in his unpublished essay "The Art of The Short Story." Hemingway's minimalistic style came from his earliest training as a journalist. He coined the term "iceberg theory" or "theory of omission," which is a writing technique that showcase surface elements without explicitly discussing the deeper, underlying themes. The deeper meaning of a story should not be exposed on the surface, but it is all there shining through implicitly. This is what brings a story gravitas. I quote, "A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit."