Lilies on the Deathbed of Etain and Other Poems by Oisin Breen

Source: the poet
Paperback, 52 pgs.
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Lilies on the Deathbed of Etain and Other Poems by Oisin Breen catapults the Irish mythology of Étaín into a context that is both modern and from days of old. A maiden who is turned by a jealous first wife of Midir into a pool of water and some other objects, including a fly, before being reborn 1,000+ years later. Breen has clearly chosen this figure for the story of death and rebirth, as there is recurring imagery and sadness throughout regarding death, lingering ailments, and enduring love.

In the opening lines, he tell us, “All this ends with the hocking of soft skin in loose folds.” Death is never the same, “For each of us it differs,” he reminds us. And this can be true, especially when taking into account how we live. Have we been kind? Have we cared for family? Have we lusted? “But our death will come in a single reckoning,” he says. We often do not expect to die when we do. Our expiration is unknown to us, no matter how healthy we try to live or how much we turn to modern medicine and other tools to extend that expiration date.

When we come to the second section of the title poem we find that Étaín is traveling with a companion in a small chamber from which she can move in and out of freely. We can only imagine what it is to be her, so small, so trapped, but yet free. She has not returned to her true form, but she is still a companion. This situation is equal parts comforting and terrifying. But aren’t all relationships like this?

Breen is providing a journey in myth to illustrate the human condition as it stands now, even without our ability to utilize real magic and turn people into pools of water. We seek revenge and companionship in other ways, whether on the Internet or in bars, etc. But one of the most beautiful passages comes in the fourth section:

now think.

When you watch a candle - its balletic fire a torrent of seemingly 
unending heat, a sharp fixed point of gulped air - silence meets
a breathless rhapsody of death, and there are instants of
stillness: moments where the flame flickers out, then continues;
they backed by equal moments of surprising light, where blue
flickers - in milliseconds - venomously cohere,   then vanish - a
traceless soliloquy of continuance.

Lilies on the Deathbed of Etain and Other Poems by Oisin Breen breaks structure at just the right places, mixing in narration and white space, to create his own myth and point us to the finality of it all. In the end, he calls on poetry as song, a way for humanity to come together, to create its own song, teach and learn from it as never before. This is a journey that leaves you questioning, but also falling a little bit in love with the myth and its poetry.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Oisín Breen is a 37 year-old poet, part-time PhD candidate in narratological complexity at Edinburgh University, and financial journalist, covering the registered investment advisory space in the US. He has 209 poems published in 105 journals and anthologies in 20 countries, and across two collections.

Dublin born Breen’s second collection just launched this month, and is already gathering praise. Lilies on the Deathbed of Étaín & Other Poems is a set of longer form works in an experimental ouevre. Breen’s critically aclaimed debut collection, Flowers, all sorts in blossom, figs, berries, and fruits, forgotten was released Mar. 2020 by Edinburgh’s Hybrid/Dreich Press.

You can find Breen on Twitter: @Breen, and on Mastodon: @[email protected].