The Greeks as always, had a phrase for it, Eos Rhododactylos, Rosy-fingered Dawn. They also had a myth to express the wonder of the Sun rising every day. Eos, the goddess of the dawn. opens the gates of heaven to let the horses of the Sun gallop out into the sky. Homer used this as the prelude to the epic events of the day. We are more prosaic. We don’t buckle on our armour and go to battle,’far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. We don’t vie with heroes or drag our conquests behind our chariots in victory. The last time that Irishmen went to battle near Troy was in 1915, at Gallipoli. They had no epic poet to celebrate their deeds. The poets of their war soon learned that there was little to celebrate. They were the sad young men who have left a legacy of grief and loss.
An old Skerries man, interviewed about his experience of Gallipoli, spoke of an attack that soon degenerated into a squalid fight with bayonets. ‘We were hard at it till evening.’ For all Homer’s enthusiasm and that of his successors and imitators, for entrails and blood, there was no glory in that old man’s war. I recall him standing silent and glum, at his door, for most of my childhood years. He had a vacant look in his eyes, but I’m sure he saw Gallipoli all the days of his life.
A lesser poet than Homer, Theo Dorgan, voiced a universal truth. He was asked about his favourite song. ‘Any song that starts with Well, I woke up this morning…he replied. Is waking up not an epic achievement in its own right? We travel alone for hours in the realm of dreams and darkness . Sometimes we experience joy and laughter. Sometimes we meet our parents or long lost friends. Sometimes we travel to places of terror or absurdity. Then we return, with the gradual light of dawn, like Ulysses returning to his Ithaca, after long wanderings and adventures in strange places. No wonder the Australian Aborigines talk about their time of myth and unimaginable antiquity as The Dreamtime.
A myth takes hold of people and conditions their thinking. The Australians and New Zealanders cling to the story of Gallipoli. It shapes their view of themselves. They find a kind of victory in a bloody defeat. We are entering a decade of commemoration of the violent events that shaped the century. If there is talk of victory and glory, think of that old Skerries man standing at his door.
The equinoctial Sun rises, for me, over Shennick Island to the east.The mid-winter Sun manages to heave itself over the south-eastern horizon, near Lambay. I watch it beginning its return journey, as the world tilts again towards the light, an inch every day. It is no wonder that the ancients saw it as a god. No wonder that the consummate artist, Turner, declared the Sun to be God. On a dark, damp, November morning, it does no harm to think of the goddess, Rosy-fingered Eos, opening the gates of heaven over Saint Patrick’s Island, away to the north -east, after a few fleeting hours of luminous darkness. In the meantime, while I wait for summer and pre-dawn birdsong through open windows, I’m glad that I woke woke up this morning.