There was a woman sitting by the low stone wall in an early autumn afternoon when I visited the ruins of Howth Abbey.
The tourist guide provided by the hotel front desk had informed us that Howth «has long been a favoured dwelling place for writers», but any mention of a literary life in Dublin will always redundant. Anyway, that morning was taken up by a visit to the Writer’s Museum of Dublin and a leisurely walk through the Martello Tower, also known as the James Joyce Tower, with its hiding and stairs seeming to quiver still inexpectation of a possible Napoleonic invasion.
The voice of Buck Mulligan, which had already taken us through the beginnings of the nineteenth century in a slow pace verging on monotony, acquired a sudden vivacity when describing the memorial o f Joyce. It now gained an expected sequence of modulations and remembrances when it bean evoking the happenings of that clear morning in June 1904 as Leopold Bloom left his house to buy lamb chops and, upon entering the butcher’s place, asked instead for tomatoes in a strange moment of physical and linguistic confusion, with reverberations eventually reaching the Cape Verdean islands through the writer Arménio Vieira.
In Howth there wasn’t any Buck Mulligan telling us of the prestige of the Abbey or the fascination it once exercised in the minds of European medieval intellectuals. We wandered without any direction through its interior hoping to hear the resonant footsteps and voices of men that retired here in isolation and contemplation of Ireland’s Eye. Separated from the shore by a narrow strip of sea, Ireland’s Eye nevertheless seemed a far away island surrendered to its lonely destiny and abandonment. And all of this came together at last in harmony with the melody that the woman sitting on the low wall began intoning.
That night Briege Murphy was performing at Howth’s Center, but only when she began singing «The Sea» did I recognize that she was the same woman that we had come across the ruins of the Abbey. Her voice produced a melodic cordon risin up in oscillating movements, accentuated by the firm pulling of the guitar strings. And in such a high I must have also imagined the maritime rhythms of Saint-John Perse, the come and go of this verbal waves, his lyrics swooning over the body of an island remembered. Maybe I was tempted to follow the path of that voice to the distant appeal of the sea that secretly echoes in the poetry of Emanuel Félix, having also decided forever the destiny of Enrico Mreule, making him exchange the closed-in Mediterranean ocean for the endless Atlantic without even knowing that this was, after all, the other sea of Claudio Magris where everything happens and Natália Correia discovered the winding voyage of Ulysses.
Gradually, however, the song became a whole in the words that told of a painful love story in which a woman slowly lost her own self in the repeated absences of her man in the vast savage sea: he takes a piece of me with him, each time he leaves the shore. Then, a delicate longing invaded the lyrics and the melody leading to a last complaint, when all is lost and without consolation: he won’t stay home for me, cause my love he takes a mistress, she’s the sea. In that story of love and jealousy, I suddenly heard echoes of Katherine Vaz’s beautiful opening of the novel Saudade, and in it the vibrations in the voice of Conceição Cruz, as if José Francisco had decided to definitely part with the land. And I found myself thinking how god it would be to know that every time we give in to the intimate calling of the sea a woman’s song will rise up to weep our destiny and perdition.
Far from the Azores and California, listening to Briege Murphy at Howth’s Abbey Center, I was simultaneously reader and character in Katherine Vaz’s novel.
Translation by Vamberto Freitas
(original português em «Que paisagem apagarás», 2010)