Death of a Bard
A Tribute to John O'Donohue
(1954 – 2008)

by Ceridwen Seren-Ddaear


On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the gray window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

~~ John O'Donohue ~~
(Echoes of Memory/Anam Cara)

The above poem was my first introduction to this amazingly talented man - so full of Awen that I was led to a further study of his work and was blown away by the depth and breadth of his evocative writings - my favourite of which is his book, Anam Cara - A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

I now use the above poem as a vehicle for online Reiki healings; I believe that by sending people a poem that opens their heart, they will be all the more receptive to the Reiki healing energies with which I infuse the poem and email - so that every time they open the email and read the poem, they will be able to access an unending supply of Reiki. And, I am happy to say, it has always worked incredibly well...

So on this page of the Druid's Egg, I am going to honour this man who has been such an inspiration for me by sharing some of his work and some stories about him with you, my readers...


"Endings seem to lie in wait," John O'Donohue wrote. His certainly did. He died in his sleep, January 3, 2008, on vacation near Avignon. He was just 53.

John O'Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher who lived in the solitude of a cottage in the West of Ireland and spoke Gaelic as his native language.

He had degrees in philosophy, English literature and was awarded a Ph.D in philosophical theology from the University of Tubingen in 1990. His dissertation developed a new concept of Person through a re-interpretation of the philosophy of Hegel. The prestigious Review of Metaphysics commended him for "breaking new ground in our thinking about consciousness…(with) a richer and deeper notion of Personhood." O'Donohue says: "Hegel struck me as someone who put his eye to the earth at a most unusual angle and managed to glimpse the circle toward which all things aspire."

Through the glow of image and narrative and a deft underpinning of thought, John's writing draws the reader into intimate conversation with neglected or unknown regions of the soul. Readers say his work puts words on things they have felt for years but never found expressed. As a speaker, John evoked an atmosphere of Attention where heart and head gradually open to new horizons and where often the inspired self gains courage to break free from inner prisons. His work seeks to be a threshold where the hunger of our contemporary questions might awaken treasure-wells in our tradition.

As a speaker John's poetic gift has been increasingly recognized by the Corporate World of Work, where he spoke to themes such as: Leadership: The Awakening of Creativity; Without Vision, The Work-Place Works Against Itself; The Gift of Encouragement in Times of Anxiety; The Art of Change: Finding the Courage for New Horizons; Coaching: The Art of Awakening Real Presence; The Intense Threshold: Holding Personal Integrity Within the System.

On the Death of the Beloved

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.
We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

~~ John O’Donohue ~~
From: To Bless the Space Between Us
(entitled Benedictus in Europe, Ireland and the UK)

A recent interviewer wrote, in memoriam, about a morning when O'Donohue came to breakfast with a hangover, having polished off an entire bottle of single malt with friends the night before. "The bottle didn't die," he announced, "without spiritual necessity."

As stated above, O'Donohue had a superlative education, earned a Ph.D. in philosophical theology from the University of Tubingen, became known as an expert on Hegel and, later, Meister Eckhart. As a priest, he loved the Church's sacramental structure and its mystical and intellectual traditions. He also loved writing. Eventually, an officious bishop made him choose. "The best decision I ever made was to become a priest," O'Donohue would say, years later, "and I think the second best decision was to resign from public priestly ministry."

In fact, he had his issues with Catholicism, especially its views on sex and women. The Church, he said, "is not trustable in the area of Eros at all." And it "has a pathological fear of the feminine --- it would sooner allow priests to marry than it would allow women to become priests."

He was just as hard on other denominations. Religious fundamentalists, he said, "only want to lead you back, driven by nostalgia for a past that never existed, to manipulate and control you.... [Their] God tends to be a monolith and an emperor of the blandest singularity." New Age spirituality, he felt, was a smorgasbord, and undisciplined. Not that he found any comfort in secular life. He scorned the mall, feared for the spiritual health of the young, and had a special dislike for media folk, who he described as "non-elected custodians of sensationalism."

His bedrocks were his faith and "the Celtic imagination," which, he said, "represents a vision of the divine where no one or nothing is excluded." The blend he created was pure joy: "I think the divine is like a huge smile that breaks somewhere in the sea within you, and gradually comes up again."

O'Donohue was no Pollyanna. He was deeply troubled by bad things happening to good people. But he also saw that "a lot of suffering is just getting rid of dross in yourself, and lingering and hanging in the darkness is often --- I say this against myself --- a failure of imagination, to imagine the door into the light."

He asks: What is a blessing? His first answer is formal, and expected: "A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen." But then the poetry enters: "It is a gracious invocation where the human heart pleads with the divine heart." And then there's the magical factor: "When a blessing is invoked, a window opens in eternal time."

We need to impact one another's lives in this spiritual way, he writes, because the process of living in a post-industrial, media-drenched world moves us further and further from our innate wholeness. Only direct action can breach the distance. Happily, it takes no special training to bless one another. It's just a matter of gathering yourself --- and finding the words.

To Learn From an Animal Being

Nearer to the Earth's heart
Deeper within its silence
animals know this world in a way we never will

We who are ever distanced and distracted
by the parade of bright windows thought opens
their seamless presence is not fractured thus

Stranded between time gone and time emerging
We manage seldom to be where we are
Whereas they are always looking out
from the here and now

May we learn to return
and rest in the beauty of animal being
learn to lean low
leave our locked minds
and with freed senses
feel the Earth breathing with us

May we enter into lightness of Spirit
and slip frequently into the field of the wild
Let the clear silence of our animal being
cleanse our hearts of corrosive words
may we learn to walk upon the Earth
with all their confidence and clear-eyed stillness
so that our mind might be baptized
in the name of the Wind and the Light and the Rain

~~ John O'Donohue ~~

He had a way with words that made you feel whole again – he created a space with language, both spoken and written, that felt like the home you never knew you were missing, but now never wanted to leave...

He was a serious environmental activist, helping to spearhead a small group that successfully prevented the despoilment of the Burren, one of Ireland’s most stunning natural landscapes. He put his reputation on the line to save something worth preserving, even being prepared to go to prison to do so. In his activism, as well as his writing and speaking, and most of all, in his life, he wanted people to have shelter from the storms their lives would bring...

John knew that we live in the intersection of the sacred and the profane, and he wanted to nudge us in the direction of understanding that holiness has more to do with being aware of the light around us than moral puritanism...

"Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless.
Regardless of how we configure the eternal,
the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness,
that place where everything comes together,
where loss will be made good,
where blindness will transform into vision,
where damage will be made whole,
where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise,
where the travails of life's journey will enjoy a homecoming.
To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now."

~~ John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings ~~

I'll end with another favourite of mine, and I wish him all the blessings and karmic rewards for all he has given us...

Reflections from Conamara

by John O’Donohue, Ph.D.

Humans have an uncanny ability to domesticate everything they touch. Eventually, even the strangest things become absorbed into the routine of the daily mind with its steady geographies of endurance, anxiety and contentment. Only seldom does the haze lift, and we glimpse for a second, the amazing plenitude of being here. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is suffering or threat that awakens us. It could happen that one evening, you are busy with many things, netted into your role and the phone rings. Someone you love is suddenly in the grip of an illness that could end their life within hours. It only takes a few seconds to receive that news. Yet, when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. All you know has just been rendered unsure and dangerous. You realise that the ground has turned into quicksand. Now it seems to you that even mountains are suspended on strings.

If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here. And the ironic thing is that story is not a story, it is true. It takes us so long to see where we are. It takes us even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is you yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed. Plato said in The Symposium that one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another. When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become. The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown. Yet we are afraid of the unknown because it lies outside our vision and our control. We avoid it or quell it by filtering it through our protective barriers of domestication and control. The normal way never leads home.

Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits.

You have come out of Plato’s Cave of Images into the sunlight and the mystery of colour and imagination. When you begin to sense that your imagination is the place where you are most divine, you feel called to clean out of your mind all the worn and shabby furniture of thought. You wish to refurbish yourself with living thought so that you can begin to see. As Meister Eckhart says: Thoughts are our inner senses. When the inner senses are dull and blurred, you can see nothing in or of yourself; you become a respectable prisoner of received images. Now you realise that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’ and you undertake the difficult but beautiful path to freedom. On this journey, you begin to see how the sides of your heart that seemed awkward, contradictory and uneven are the places where the treasure lies hidden. You begin to become true to yourself. And as Shakespeare says in Hamlet: To thine own self be true, then as surely as night follows day, thou canst to no man be false.

The journey shows you that from this inner dedication you can reconstruct your own values and action. You develop from your own self-compassion a great compassion for others. You are no longer caught in the false game of judgment, comparison and assumption. More naked now than ever, you begin to feel truly alive. You begin to trust the music of your own soul; you have inherited treasure that no one will ever be able to take from you. At the deepest level, this adventure of growth is in fact a transfigurative conversation with your own death. And when the time comes for you to leave, the view from your deathbed will show a life of growth that gladdens the heart and takes away all fear.


Anam Cara - A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue