Monday, February 7, 2011
Love Me Knot
There are many representations of love knots throughout history. For centuries, many cultures (Celtic, Algerian, Sikh, African...) have used the symbol of a never-ending knot to signify completeness, constancy and strength. Variations of the knot have been used in marriage ceremonies, and even the idea of a wedding ring can be seen as a variation of the 'knot' with no beginning and no end.
The idea of a love knot made of straw seems to be rooted in celebrations of the harvest. Sometimes called the Countryman's Favor, Harvest Knots or Lover's Tokens, the knots are braided from gathered remnants of the grain harvest. The braided design was then presented to the object of the man's affection and if she wore it on her sleeve the following day, she accepted his invitation and the courtship began.
As happens with most symbols, their meaning evolves through history and the same is true for this plaited straw knot. The contemporary Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote a very nice proleptic (anticipatory) elegy called "The Harvest Bow". In the poem he elegizes his father while reminiscing over a braided straw knot. The verse that speaks to me in particular talks about 'telling' the bow:
I tell and finger it like braille
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable
I can imagine the son caressing the work of the father, or the girl caressing the work of her sweetheart - remembering the hands that made it. Especially in this age of mass production, computerized & digitized, robotic assembly, it's rare that we can hold an item and imagine the hands that lovingly crafted it. Which is why it's important to keep craftsmanship alive, to make things ourselves; why we guard those trinkets and treasures made by hands we love. It's why I keep a box full of the gifts my sister has made me since she was four, why socks and scarves made by your mother or your best friend are always warmer, and why I treasure the handwritten letters Adam sends. It's why the love knot sent by your wonderful mother-in-law is guaranteed to bring happiness.
It's because they are made with Love.
[And just in case you're interested in the full text of "The Harvest Bow", I'm including it below.]
The Harvest Bow by Seamus Heaney
As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.
Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks
And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks
Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent
Until your fingers moved somnambulant:
I tell and finger it like braille,
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable,
And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall—
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,
Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.
The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser—
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.