All Hallows eve

So it’s pretty much the eve of Samhain; in the Christian calendar, All Saints Day, when we luxuriate in our great cloud of witnesses.

On this day I’ll always remember my great teacher Eric Hamp, who was supposed to be teaching us the grammar of Old Irish but in his endearing way would often go off on a tangent. The evening I’m thinking of was, let me think, about fifty years ago now; a drab classroom in dreary darkling Chicago, in the evening, as the snow had begun to fall.

We got off the track of infixed pronouns and onto the occasion, and Eric, in his casual way — this stuff was all very present to his imagination — talked to us a bit about the Celts, a people who had come to inhabit a formerly long-inhabited landscape, with rugged old tombs still standing, the relicts of a people of whom they, and we, know basically nothing. At these corners of the year the spirits of the dead were not to be neglected. It’s grown dark outside the classroom windows, and the snow is falling. I trudged slowly home afterwards a very much changed young man.