Amabel Clarke is a very close friend and I’ve often heard her cycle the Hanrahan narratives of WB Yeats. Red Hanrahan as Yeats presents him is a sort of Celtic trickster-bard who scandalizes Ireland – not an easy thing to do in the good old days. Recently, under a starry night-sky by a blazing campfire I had the delicious experience of listening to Amabel tell a story from ancient China, the land of the ‘old boy’. (Amabel also tells ‘children’s stories’ if such a category exists, for we are all children at heart, isn’t that true?)
Wang Meng is a master-painter. Like Red Hanrahan he carries the trickster archetype, disruptive, restorative and armed with unfathomable secrets. We meet Wang in his old age when he is about to antagonize the Ming Emperor Taizu and… find himself wrongly jailed. Yet as the story wonderfully illustrates no-one can incarcerate the trickster for long, especially when he is a master painter who has solved the question of whether art should be concerned purely with art or objectively engaged with real politik etc etc. Master Wang had fused the inner and the outer realities into one hyperconscious state of being; and of course – without issuing any spoilers – I can reveal that from this fusion came the supernatural key which ultimately released him from prison.
The story and its telling so fascinated me that soon afterwards I wrote the following sonnet, which more references old Donegal than dynastic China, though – all things considered – it comes to the same thing.
Her listener glimpses in sinking flames
through smoke of woodfires, in embers
how some narrative proclaims
warm, everlasting Septembers.
A dying fire contradicts itself
with sparks of resurgent belief;
and the stars are considerate
reaffirming the preliterate.
Now she travels back-histories
the thousand curves of a night-lane
winding through old Donegal terrain
where on the skyline some hearer sees
huge crescent moons lying on their backs
pursing golden lips; from children’s books.