Micheal O’Siadhail published his Collected Poems with Bloodaxe Books in 2013. Since that landmark, he has published a volume of sonnets describing the daily struggles he and his late wife, Brid, endured as she lived with Parkinson’s disease from 1995 until 2013. The stages of her illness, the significant events they faced together and apart, and the emotional repercussions of Brid’s death are given affecting treatment in One Crimson Thread.
O’Siadhail’s poetry portrays his intimate experiences as the husband and, later, as principal caregiver of Brid, his wife for forty-four years until her death in June 2013. This new volume features portraits of the currents of their marriage— described more fully in the earlier, celebratory poems of Love Life (2005)—and depicts the laments, the explorations of illness, and the efforts to maintain emo- tional equilibrium that mark this deeply personal sonnet sequence. In the course of developing connections between the happiness of their long marriage and the suffering at the end of her life, O’Siadhail celebrates small and large moments that still connect them. For example, his spirit of resilience and hopefulness, dread, and affection emerge in sonnet 41: “As I remain your lover come what may— / One crimson thread until the crimson end.” The image of the “crimson thread” derives from the Song of Songs, and the poet has woven it throughout the vol- ume.Here,forexample,isitspriorappearanceastheepigraphtoLoveLife:“Your lips are like a crimson thread / and your mouth is lovely. . . .”
In One Crimson Thread, the poet portrays her states of mind and feeling, his adjustments to her changing personality, and his brokenness at her death. At the heart of this sequence, the poems courageously show how the couple’s deep- rooted love searches to overcome her illness, their fear and dread, and their even- tual loss. As in its incarnations in Love Life, the image of the sonnet sequence’s title demonstrates that love will connect these lovers by an unbreakable “crimson thread.” The poet writes: “I hush you in my arms to tell you how / This suffering still sounds our depths of love.”
Two sonnets in One Crimson Thread particularly portray these emotions and states of mind, sonnets 33 and 150. Sonnet 33 has just thirteen lines, which the poet has described as a formal effort to represent brokenness, not unlike the so-called “curtal sonnets” of Hopkins. The majority of the poems are written as Shakespearean or Spenserian sonnets in end-stopped lines using perfect rhyme and pentameter rhythms. Sonnet 33’s octave reads as follows:
All memories mix longing with relief— I’m grateful for those years that now have gone But want that life to still go on and on. My eyes will waste away with tears of grief.
If I could live my life ten times again, I’d fall for you the way I fell before; Would you then choose me ten times more And make this man the luckiest of men?
He expands the notion of their many years of life together in the second stanza, when he makes a promise and speaks a desperate hope. In the rst stanza, he has ampli ed his grief at her dementia and other changes by echoing Psalm 31, verse 9: “My eyes will waste away with tears of grief.” To complete the picture of his longing for a healthy Brid, he offers a poignant image of her past sprightliness, as in these lines: “In lanterns of recall you still can lope / Across my mind so coiled with spring and hope; / I ood with you anew, my all in all.” The suggestion that this ooding is equivocal, involving both a fecund preparation for life and his tears at its ebb, is powerful.
There is room for lamentation and petition in these sonnets, and O’Siadhail makes use of that ancient impulse to implore the Creator for relief. He must tell the realities of her life and death, and in composing sonnet 150, he brings his elegiac project to a moving close. The first five lines and the last two lines of Sonnet 150 read as follows:
The warmest summer we have had for years, September too has eked warmth day by day; Yet grief still lurks collecting its arrears— The pain of loss the price of love we pay.
A cord of covenant until the end. . . .
My beloved’s mine and I am his to hold
A whole life through, our love’s one crimson thread.
At the end of this sequence, he uses the past tense “were” to signal his great loss: “You were so long my lover and best friend.” We also recognize, in the images of summer, crimson thread, and “a cord of covenant,” the signs of continuing marital union and strong personal memory taking hold in the memorializing gestures of the lines. These lines assert that love is stronger than death as the imagery of epithalamion again allows them to hold one another “A whole life through, our love’s one crimson thread.” Finality can be heard in these phrases, but so can the poet’s recognition of their love’s lastingness, because the “crimson thread” of the bridegroom has become forever associated with Brid’s lips, her loveliness, and her vital presence in his life.
One Crimson Thread, by Micheal O’Siadhail, pp. 158. Hexham, Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2015. Distributed by Dufour Editions, Chester Springs, PA. $29.