There are certain threads that run through the work of John O’Donohue. They manifest themselves with different colours and textures in his work. The form may change for different purposes of rhythm and resonance, but the intention remains constant. It is grounded in human vulnerability and the desire, the longing, for a connection to the wonder of the divine in nature, and human life within it.
It is difficult to write of John O’Donohue’s books when the loss of his extraordinary presence is still acute. The two collections of poetry – Echoes of Memory and Conamara Blues, made a form of music from shorter lines of the deeply spiritual and luminous wisdom that informed Anam Ćara, Eternal Echoes, Divine Beauty, and Benedictus – his most recent work. These works which have been left to us, and published in a form that makes its own beauty in terms of touch and print-face, constitute a legacy that will pass on to future generations, and most importantly, will find its way to those most in need of its affirming message.
To have had the benefit of John O’Donohue’s friendship was a special blessing. Before any words were uttered his presence filled one with hope. His background in the most challenging of philosophical questions, was part of a spectrum that ran from the warmth of the local to Hegel, personality, and the human condition. There was never a hint of the didactic in his conversation. There was an infectious excitement, and wonderment at the possibility of new answers to old questions and new pathways to different and better futures.
Respecting memory and its riches in myth and folklore was principle with him as was the importance that he attached to imagination. One of his most recent works was a speculation entitled towards a poetic of the possibility, an early draft of which, he discussed with me in 2005 when he visited me in hospital. This beautiful piece makes, I believe the suggestion that we should not allow the visible and the empirical, the lived experience, to defeat the undelivered possibilities of the imagination, with its profound capacity for what was ethical. It was perhaps better to be remembered for the beauty, and the divine, suggested by the imagination through a life rather than any material achievements.
We are left with the books and for those of us who will peruse them there will be some solace in their wisdom, humour, mysticism, prophetic and utopian insights. However, his partner, his mother, brothers and sisters his family, neighbours, friends and colleagues will feel an even greater sense of loss. John O’Donohue’s work, however, tells us that physical death is not an end of anything. Rather it is but a stage, in the long journey that longing for a revelation of the divine in all life, creates. A new spirit is exploding among the stars that shine over Fanore. He has gone on and we will miss him for a while, but he has been lodged in us in a way that will always endure.
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Michael D Higgins was born in Limerick in 1941. His collections are The Betrayal (Galway, Salmon Publishing, 1990); The Season of Fire (Tralee, Co. Kerry, Brandon, 1993); and An Arid Season (Dublin, New Island Books, 2004). In 1992 he became the first recipient of the Seán McBride International Peace Medal of the International Peace Bureau for his work for human rights.