[“Sunset and Evening Star” is Irish playwright Sean O’Casey’s autobiography published 1954.  Surprisingly, it’s written in third person, the author referring to himself as Sean throughout.  It’s loose, stream of conscious style must have been unique in the mid 1950’s (reminds me of Dylan’s “Chronicles” written some 50 years later)!  The reader must follow where O’Casey takes you; eavesdropping on a conversation, witnessing a rant from another writer, prose that lapses into poetry and back again effortlessly. He has a tendency to belabor his subjects somewhat, rambling quite a bit, but the writing is entertaining, the word choice (and invention) playful and the style quite unusual.  His personal insights into Irish history and his fellow artists are fascinating.  The NYT’s obit – linked below, is very thorough if you desire further information on the author.  jbm 3/6/2017]

“Sweat-stained comrades of building-site, railway-line, and ship-lined dock, you did what you could to make on-coming life safer and sounder, in bitter strike and vengeful lockout.  Coarse you were but never common.  Yes we have all done something to change the Childermess to a Childermas of security, health, and a bonnie-looking life. You, Promethean Jim Larkin, with the voice born of the bugle and the drum, Barney Conway and Paddy Walsh of the workshop, O’Casey of the pick and shovel; you, W.B. Yeats of the lovely lyrics, Augusta Gregory of the little, the larger, laughing plays and the wisdom of guidance, Shaw of the drama and the prophecies, and Joyce of the sad heart and the divine comic mind, touselling and destroying our mean conceits and meaner vanities.  We all ate of the great sacrament of life together.”

“It is difficult enough for all to judge the things of time; it is beyond us to judge the things of eternity.”

“Never another sky for him now but the sunset and evening star, brightening into a star of the night.”

“Ah, my friend, he said aloud, it isn’t good to be always humble.  The lower-classes are busy casting humbleness aside, and are shedding their respect for those who rob and rot them.”

“The middle-class are to blame.  Caught in the glare of their snobbery, they strain, not after knowledge, but after Eton; not after human development, but after a nameless name; suffering indignity and danger, rather than give up a few pieces of silver, a good address on their notepaper and a badged blazer for a son or daughter.  Ad ardua sed disastra.”

“We have begun to realise that children need not only life, but liberty too.  For too long the children have been buried alive in church, in school, in the home.”

“How conceited we all are to wish our children to be like ourselves!”

“The  last thing to be done is to let a child see for itself, hear for itself, think for itself, and, when hands are old enough to be used steadily, do for itself.”

“When a mind becomes great, it leaves the university behind it, and joins the company of man.  Coloured hoods are very charming, but they fade if the mind of the wearer isn’t broader and more colourable than the hood.  Literature, art, and science represent themselves.  Milton, Shelley, Constable, Darwin, and Rutherford can go about without their cloaks.”

“That’s it, by God!  Every man must fashion by thought and experience the truth that suits him, the truth he needs.”

“For Christ’s sake, let the child laugh, let the child play, let the child sing, let the child learn, let the child alone.”

“However hard and long we think; however bold we be; however fine we write, its hard to say more than a bare amen to all that’s said afore.”

“The right to work is the narrow gate through which alone the workers can enter the kingdom of earth.  And who can claim a share in God who does not take the part of man?”

“Facts, though true, were not Truth; they were but minor facets of it.  Parts, but not the whole.”

“Every exploitation by one man, or by a bunch of men, of other men was a crucifixion.”

“For God’s sake! ejaculated Donal [o’ Murachoo], the mien of the secular scholar rising up in him.  There’s no such thing as English civilization – it’s a mingling through the ages of many others – Syrian, Jewish, Hellenistic, Roman, with the Scot, the Cymru and the Gael brightening it all up a bit.  The very rosary beads we twist through our fingers had their origin in Syria, and the column keeping Nelson in the air has a Syrian root.  If we all haven’t drunk from the well at the world’s end, we’ve all had a sip from the well at the world’s beginning!”

“Under those bristling eyebrows, behind those brilliant Irish eyes, over that thick-ended nose, under that frosty pow, thinning thickly now, the alert, witty and peerless mind peered out at the present, peered into the future; almost faultless, utterly unafraid.  Oh, [George Bernard] Shaw, there is not your equal now! When shall we see your like again!”

“There’ll be nothing here now but the wind and the rain, and chilly water under every tired foot halting for a rest.  Even the older dogs know the road no longer. These three boyos [Shaw, Yeats, Joyce] are whispering their strange thoughts into every Irish ear, and every Irish ear is cocked to hear them.  This land will soon be nothing but a weed in a garden of noses – no – poses.  Oh, what am I saying!  Soon be nothing but a nose in a garden of weeds.  Oh, I’m going mad!  impetuous heart, be still , be still.”

[quoting George Jean Nathan in the preface to Five Great Modern Irish Plays] “The Irish alone as a playwrighting nation appear to appreciate the human heart for what in all its strange and various moods it is, and the Irish alone with a profligate beauty and a lyric artlessness permit it to tell its true and often aching story.”

[on Shaw’s legacy] “Man must be his own savior; man must be his own god.  Man must learn, not by prayer, but by experience.  Advice from God was within ourselves, and nowhere else.”

“Indeed, the whole of Latin literature is but a cemetery of marble slabs jutting up here and there to show the passer-by what he may be missing.  Footman, pass on!  Latin has slunk into the silence of the grave.  Canned into cold storage, with no one able to rede the labels on the tins.”

“Curious how religions, ancient and modern, harp on the futility of life.  How they fill it with pain, uncertainty,  and woe.  Brief life is here our portion; life is but a walking shadow; life is but an empty dream.  Even Buddha, gentle as a dewdrop upon a lotus blossom, sitting without a stir under the Bo tree, calls men away from this life.  They find it damned hard to go, for no man is so old as to believe he cannot live one more year.”

“Away then with the whine of being miserable sinners, with the whine of we’ve no abiding city here, with the whine of pray for the wanderer, pray for me!  We’ve important things to do.  Fag an Bealach!”

“The singing heart.  The young may-mooning.  Oh, foolish lover and foolish lover’s lass, know ye not that love is corrupt with the corustcation of original sin?  A sense of beauty at the sudden sight of some image; image of cloud, flower, fern, or woman, lingers less than a moment.  Silence the sigh, for man has made many an everlasting thing out of a moment of time.  The lover and his lass are forever acting on the stage of life, and Marlowe’s glimpse of fair Helen’s beauty didn’t die with him in a tavern brawl.  The primrose’s gentle yellow blossom dies; every season a last rose of summer sheds its petals on the cynical earth; but the rose is always with us, and the primrose blooms again.”

“The flame from the angel’s sword in the Garden of Eden has been catalysed into the atom bomb; God’s thunderbolt became blunted, so man’s dunderbolt has become the steel star of destruction.”

“Twinkle, twinkle, mighty bomb, bring us safe to kingdom come; when you come with clouds ascending, doing harm that needs no mending; from the place, hall, and slum bring us safe to kingdom come.  Never worry, what the wind is, what the whether – God can stick the bits together.  We have the atom bomb – get that into your head.  We’re ready for anything now.  Warships sail with decks half-cleared for action; no general wearing a nosegay to soften the arrogant air of his crimson tabs; the guns are polished, primed and pointed:  were ready for anything. Zip! any minute now.  Oh, Walt Whitman, saintly sinner, sing for us!”

“Even here, even now, when the sun had set and the evening star was chastely touching the bosom of the night, there were things to say, things to do.  A drink first!  What would he drink to – the past, the present, the future?  To all of them!  He would drink to the life that embraced the three of them!  Here, with whitened hair, desires failing, strength ebbing out of him, with the sun gone down, and with only the serenity and the calm warning of the evening star left to him, he drank to Life,  to all it had been, to what it was, to what it would be.  Hurrah!”


Copyright, 1954 by Sean O’Casey

O’Casey obit (NYT):  http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0330.html

photo: Sean O’Casey by Wolfgang Suschitzky