Bicycle Diaries: <i>The art of pedalling</i>

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The art of pedalling

The first grip I ever got on things

Seamus Heaney, a farmer's son from County Derry in Northern Ireland, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Four year's earlier he had published a collection of poems, Seeing Things.

Most believe this collection established Heaney's reputation as a world-class poet. My favorite is Wheels Within Wheels where as a child he remembers spinning the pedals on an upside down bicycle to watch The way the space between the hub and rim / Hummed with transparency.
The first grip I ever got on things
Was when I learnt the art of pedalling
(By hand) a bike turned upside down, and drove
Its back wheel preternaturally fast.
I loved the dissapearance of the spokes,
The way the space between the hub and the rim
Hummed with transparency. If you threw
A potato into it, the hooped air
Spun mush and drizzle back into your face;
If you touched it with a straw, the straw frittered.
Something about the way those pedal treads
Worked very palpably at first against you
And then began to sweep your hand ahead
Into a new momentum -- that all entered me
Like an access of free power, as if belief
Caught up and spun the objects of belief
In an orbit coterminous with longing.
How many of us, without the benefit of a bike stand, have noticed the exact same thing when working on our bikes? Although I can't say that I ever was daring enough to throw a potato through the spokes of that which rolls. Heaney's simple insights expressed in spare, precise language are even more apparent in Beacons of Bealtaine, the poem he wrote celebrating European expansion in 2004.
Uisce: water. And fionn: the water's clear.
But dip and find this Gaelic water Greek:
A phoenix flames upon fionn uisce here.

Strangers were barbaroi to the Greek ear.
Now let the heirs of all who could not speak
The language, whose ba-babbling was unclear,

Come with their gift of tongues past each frontier
And find the answering voices that they seek
As fionn and uisce answer phoenix here.

The May Day hills were burning, far and near,
When our land's first footers beached boats in the creek
In uisce, fionn, strange words that soon grew clear;

So on a day when newcomers appear
Let it be a homecoming and let us speak
The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,

Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare
Like ancient beacons signalling, peak to peak,
From middle sea to north sea, shining clear
As phoenix flame upon fionn uisce here.
Bealtaine, or May Day, is the old Celtic holiday marking the beginning of summer. Bonfires were lit to guide the shepards as they drove their flocks from the winter pens. The park where Heaney read this poem is named after the phoenix, also a firey symbol of regeneration. In this case, it is the regeneration of Europe as it brings more countires into its union.

Perhaps then that which rolls refers not only to human powered transportation but also to human powered transformation.

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