nd let me say, a postscript is a lovely addition to a letter, or, in this case, a blog. I used to love to see how many PSs could genuinely be added to a letter. We’ve got PS, then PPS, then PPPS. In fact, according to author Shaun Usher, “The PS is the most charming part of a letter. It’s the wink you give as you walk away.”
The punctuation PS is now preferred because postscriptum, the Latin word on which PS is based, is now written as one word. It means literally, “after the writing,” apparently.
Happily for us, dear reader, I have a great Irish friend who has filled me in on the history of Samhain, that Celtic holiday that got bypassed by All Saints Day in France. You may remember that All Saints Day used to be in May, but then got moved to 1 Nov to bring the Lord’s blessing to the potato holiday.
My friend, Avril Hegarty, writes a little for us about Samhain and other Irish holidays:
“Samhain is, of course, the first day of winter in the Irish calendar. And Imbolc (Lá le Bríde – St. Bridget’s Day, 1st February) is the first day of Irish spring with lots of traditions involving the St. Bridget’s cross.
“Bealtaine (1st May) is the first day of summer and, of course, Lúnasa (1st August) is the start of the harvest. And then we have St John’s Eve which is Midsummer and a night when bonfires are lit all over the west of Ireland (and Aran Islands in particular).
“And Samhain has interesting links with other parts of the world and other religions. Not just Día de los Muertos, but also Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights at the start of the Hindu New Year and even possibly Loy Krathong, the Thai festival of lights (19th November this year).
“Scotland still has ‘tattie holidays’ for schoolchildren at the end of October (tattie = potato).
“One more myth about Samhain. The pooka, who rides a big black horse, puts a bad spell (or spits on, depending which story you read) blackberries still in the fields on Hallowe’en. So you cannot pick and eat blackberries after 31st October.”
My friend also draws our attention to Hanukkah, another Festival of Lights. She writes, “I know it has very different origins to Samhain and is a bit later, but there must be something about the spiritual need for lights at this time of the year as the evenings grow dark.”
SCIENTISTS AND CELTIC HOLIDAYS
And also, according to Avril, even the scientists are now taking an interest in the Celtic holidays. There was a recent event called “Sonnets for Samhain, Tales of Schrödinger Through Poetry.” Now you may remember Schrödinger as the scientist with the thought experiment of a cat. Wikipedia tells us this: “In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment that illustrates a paradox of quantum superposition. In the thought experiment, a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both alive and dead as a result of its fate being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.” I would have loved to have been at this sonnet sequence, for this cat thought experiment has elements of waiting for Godot, for sure. Waiting for news of the cat—is it alive or not—is much like waiting for news of Godot who is both there and not there simultaneously.
And as fate would have it, in yet another example of synchronicity, Avril’s own mother, Molly Reynolds, actually worked as a physicist for Schrödinger. Mrs. Reynolds earned a degree in physics from Trinity College. Her older sisters had studied language and geography there, and she wanted to be different. “Why not physics?” she asked herself.
With her PhD in hand, she became Schrödinger’s research assistant. She enjoyed Sunday afternoon tea with Schrödinger with Sacher torte and big bowls of whipped cream. She mentioned that she never saw a cat. (It was too busy being theoretically alive or dead or neither or both; that’s my idea.)
And no Irish post called Postscript could be complete without Seamus Haney’s poem called, “Postscript,” written after a trip he took with his wife and some friends to the west coast of Ireland.
Postscript by Seamus Heaney
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
When I teach this poem, I begin with the first word, the connecting, “And,” which does so much to set the mood for a postscript. I think we could all make ourselves a promise that the next time we put in a PS after a letter or more likely an e-mail, we then begin the postscript with “And,” in honor of Seamus Heaney and to inspire our writing to exhibit some of the grace and charm of a poem, and, for that matter, the charm of the PS.
PS. As fate again would have it, Avril’s family ordered a Volkswagen Passat when she was a child, which took so long to arrive that her Dad, a scientist himself, named it–no, ce n’est pas possible–Godot!