Sean Walsh

I live in Dublin, Ireland. Sometimes. Most times I live in my head, quite unaware of my surroundings – if you know what I mean… If you succeed in tracking Sean Walsh, please let me know, ok? I've been searching for him for years…

Master Class

Published on Thursday 10th January 2019 by Sean Walsh

So long ago?.. Seems like yesterday.

Even now I close my eyes… re-call, re-live

the noise, bustle, clamour,

the sights, sounds, aromas,

the stunning coloratura

of Rome in the mid fifties…

 

Rome. Ah, yes. The Eternal City.

Citadel of Pius the Twelfth, Pontefex Maximus.

Rome of the Latin Ritual and the Strict Observance,

of sanctity and sin, devotion and decadence,

doctrine and dogma, black and white…

a Rome come alive again within a decade of D Day.

 

And in the midst of noise – quiet, stillness:

the haven of peace that is Saint Isidore’s,

the College of the Irish Franciscans,

on the cusp of a hill hard by the Via Veneto,

not all that far from the Spanish steps…

where I was a student for four sheltered years.

 

‘Climb the steps to the main entrance,

push past the wrought-iron gates

and so to the inner cloister:

the orange trees in the courtyard,

the gentle cadence of the fountains,

swallows on the wing under an azure sky…

 

A stone stairway led up and up again,

then around to the Library.

Oh, I remember well that heavy,

inescapable whiff of dusty tomes,

old manuscripts, well-thumbed volumes.

And the silence of the tomb.

 

There one winter evening in the numbing cold,

straddling a ladder,

I chanced upon a thin, hard-backed volume:

the Notebooks of Michael Angelo,

translated into English by I know not who…

 

I began to taste it, pausing here and there,

and so came upon the Master’s definition of art:

“… the elimination of the superfluous…”

What? How to make sense of this pithy sentence

delivered with all the assurance of a sage:

“art… the elimination of the superfluous…”

 

I was still mulling over it

when the bell went for “lights-out.”

 

I couldn’t wait to get to Saint Peter’s!

Oh, I had been there many times before –

but never with such focus, intent.

Once inside this seat of Christendom,

I made my way to the side chapel on the right –

and Michelangelo’s Pieta…

 

A masterpiece in marble: a stricken Madonna

holding the lifeless, bloodless body of her Son.

And I scrutinised intently this superb classic,

this work of sheer genius, searching for a line,

a contour, an indentation

that might be deemed superfluous –

and found none.

 

Seventy years ago, give or take.

A young student, still wet behind the ears,

was given a Master Class

from beyond the grave – an experience

that would guide and support him all his life.

 

But of course!

Get rid of the dross, the baggage.

Cut… delete… eliminate.

Sheer away the fat to get to the fillet.

The lean meat will only be exposed

by a merciless wielding of the scalpel…

 

I went through life following one path, then another –

preacher, journalist, editor, drama producer, director,

facilitator of creative writing workshops…

But wherever I went – whatever task came my way –

the dictat of the Maestro was never far from the surface

of my mind: a pearl of great price, my vade mecum…

 

Now I must go back over this piece

in search of the superfluous,

a finger never far from the Delete key…

grateful that I work at a PC –

and not a mass of marble…

 

Revised, edited, May 21, 2019.
(I recorded this piece in studio and it was broadcast in the nineties as part of a Sunday Miscellany programme on RTE Radio One.)

Copyright © 2019 Sean Walsh

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