01 November 2012

A poem for All Saints' and All Souls' Days

I don't know much about the faith of Scottish poet Norman MacCaig (1910 - 1996). Wikipedia tells us that he described it as 'Zen Calvinism' - 'a comment typical of his half-humorous, half-serious approach to life'.

A favourite poem of mine is Country Postman. It expresses for me something of the reality of the Communion of Saints that we celebrate and remember in a special way on these two days. I've no idea if Norman MacCaig was thinking of the Communion of Saints when he wrote it. But it captures something of what holds us all together as a community. With email, Facebook and all the ways of communicating in 'this digital continent', as Pope Benedict calls it, perhaps the role of the postman has changed, though he is still vital in rural communities, not only to deliver the mail but to keep an eye on older persons living on their own, some of whom perhaps are reclusive but who still welcome him.

The poem too catches something of the fragility in all of us, especially in those who serve the broader community quietly and generously for so many years. And could Jesus, who turned water into wine at a wedding for people like those this postman served, turn away this poor man who died after probably celebrating a little too much?

It is persons such as MacCaig's Country Postman whom we remember on All Souls' Day and it is our prayers that help them move from being numbered among All Souls to being numbered among All Saints.

'Burn' here means 'creek'.

Country Postman

Before he was drowned, 
his drunk body bumping down the shallows 
of the Ogle Burn, he had walked 
fifteen miles every day 
bringing celebrations and disasters 
and what lies between them to
 MacLarens and MacGregors 
and Mackenzies.

Now he has no news to bring 
of celebrations or disasters, 
although, after one short journey, 
he has reached 
all the clans in the world.

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