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....I am a sheep without a fold
who sleeps his sound sleep in the old tree at Kilnoo
dreaming back the old days with Congal in Antrim
A starry frost will come dropping on pools
and I'll be astray here on unsheltered heights
herons calling in cold Glenelly
flocks of birds quickly coming and going
I prefer the elusive rhapsody of blackbirds
to the garrulous blather of men and women... ...
My brother in law, John Cleveland, sent the poem Sweeny Astray to me, sure that I would like it. He was right. I kept it close to me for 2 years now and it has drawn from me much thought, many drawings, a window, and a sand animation for which I am finishing the sound track.
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The poem is about an Irish warrior chieftain named Sweeny. Sweeny, annoyed by the pious activities and ringing bell of a cleric, throws the cleric's missal in a lake. After further altercation the priest curses Sweeny who is transformed, or goes mad and thinks he is tranformed, into a bird. He leaves his beautiful wife and castle to journey naked in the wilds of Ireland, living on watercress, hazelnuts, berries and sleeping in trees. His suffering is intense but he often breaks into rapturous visionary lyricism for the wilderness of his native Island, naming the sacred Celtic trees and mountains, glens, coves and rivers. He dies mad and alone, the victim of misplaced jealousy.

I see the poem in 3 ways: first as a movingly subversive means by which Irish poets kept alive the Celtic vision of the land while allowing this vision to survive in a repressive Christian culture which sought to bury Celtic lore and history; second as a probing reversal of the Adam and Eve story in which God's curse removes them from nature, but sends Sweeny into nature; and third as a description of the damage of war on the soul, Sweeny's affliction bears much resemblance to patterns of post traumatic stress.

The beauty Sweeny sees is all the more piercing because of his hardship. His banishment from humanity wildly offset by the fact that he becomes a creature of flight, a bird of the air, unbound from gravity.

This art glass panel is inspired by Seamus Heaney's translation of Sweeny Astray, a poem about the natural world of Ireland, madness and flight
Inspired by the epic medieval Irish Poem SWEENY ASTRAY translated from the Irish by Seamus Heaney. The window combines cast glass ( the green bird with the celtic knotwork, and the face with raise hands) and elaborate fused and painted pieces like the skeletal bird. 22.6" x 24.3"AFSD* Stained glass art by J Tracy.

detail of FLIGHT FROM GLEN BOLCAIN Image based on Sweeny Astray
this stained glass panel emphasizes glass painting drawing imagery from grass, insects, berries, rocks leaves and an altered painting of mother and child by Caravaggio
ALL FLESH IS GRASS (with visual quote from Caravaggio) 24"x16"
Beauty set within the frame of vulnerability and fragility.
The leaves of plants are our life, turning light to food, creating soil, holdng moistue, providing medicines, oxygen. We must learn respect for this nourishing living web if we wish to heal the planet. The central tree is a piece of cast glass. Stained glass art by Joseph Tracy