ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Over the years, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED has had many memorable guests. For my colleague Jacki Lyden, perhaps no more so than one Irish poet, philosopher and writer John O'Donohue. He died suddenly on January 3rd in France. Jacki shares this remembrance.
JACKI LYDEN: It's a privilege to host an NPR show. To find that person who has a music in him or her that a listener might find an indelible voice, a transforming presence.
John O'Donohue, a native Irish speaker and former priest, had such a voice. We didn't know him when his book came, as many do across our transom in March of 1999. It was called "Eternal Echoes." A friend of mine said I might like it. I did. I very much did.
He was writing about the places my own ancestors hailed from - Connemara, the shelf of Ireland, the western edge of limestone ridges, bog and the black estuaries of the Atlantic Ocean.
In this poem, John describes it at sunset.
Mr. JOHN O'DONOHUE (Irish Poet, Philosopher, Writer): In an instant, the whole place flares in a glaze of pools, as if a kind sun let a red nest sink through the bog, reach down to a forgotten infancy of granite and dredge up a hall of colors that play and sparkle through the smother of bog - pinks, yellow, amber and orange.
LYDEN: I was fortunate to meet John later that year in Ireland. And he became a friend, a life friend for always, the sort who finishes your sentences, that John O'Donohue's sentences came in sunburst and rainfalls of speech He was a poet, a scholar, a speaker with an international following, a massive man with a massive rambunctious spirit. And he had recently fallen in love with the woman he planned to spend the rest of his life with.
John was a former priest and author of books that provided sustenance for many souls hungering for connection in our shallow, narcissistic culture - a world full of what he called the religion of rush.
Again, he spoke about it in our first interview.
Mr. O'DONOHUE: Well, my read on it is that in postmodern culture, that we are now in the middle of a huge crisis of belonging, that all the traditional shelters have really fallen or semi-collapsed. For instance, religion and the Western religions in particular, the great traditions have fallen more and more into the hands and custodianship of frightened functionaries. People who are exquisite masters of the gateways know who should be let in and who shouldn't be let in, but they know little of the treasure that lies buried further in. And a great tradition has great treasure. And it's a pity that the image of the great religious tradition is so reductionist and so negative.
LYDEN: And while the books became frequent and the crowds that came to hear him ever larger, this was a man who could find quiet.
One of my favorite O'Donohue poems was one of the first he published. It's about bereavement, and it is called "Beannacht," which in Irish means passage. He wrote it for his mother, Josie(ph), on the occasion of his father's death.
Mr. O'DONOHUE: 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 grey window and the ghost of loss gets in to you, may a flock of colors, 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.
LYDEN: John O'Donohue was buried today in Fanore, County Clare, Ireland. He was 53 and I'm happy to say, my dear, my cherished friend.
(Soundbite of music)
SEABROOK: NPR's Jacki Lyden with that remembrance.
Our parting words this evening came from John O'Donohue. It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.