A Celebration of Kevin McGrath

A snapshot of Kevin McGrath taken in Maleas, Greece in June, 2023.

This posting, originally dated October 15, 2023, is now re-posted. The re-dating is November 4, 2023, though the actual writing here is dated November 8. The writer of  this re-posting is an old friend of Kevin.

The occasion for the reposting by this writer…

Our dear Kevin died around 3am on Saturday morning, November 4, 2023.

Kevin’s last words sent to this writer, which are about to be quoted here, were written in a message sent via email, dated October 22, and Kevin was responding to the original posting of October 15. In the quotation, we are about to read Kevin commenting on the image that graces the cover of the original posting from October 15—an image that continues to grace the cover of the present re-posting. Kevin was responding to the fact that his friends already knew he was dying, and that they so admired his graceful acceptance of a rapidly oncoming death that he faced with the most serene equanimity. He already knew that the celebration of his life and times, begun in the posting from October 15, would continue and flourish beyond his awaited death. The image of Kevin that graces the posting here says at all, and so too are the last words that Kevin wrote to the present writer in that email from October 22. Quoted here is what Kevin wrote about that image posted on October 15 and posted here again:

<< Thank You so much for that, dear Greg … That image pictures my profound, absolute, and completely informing  love for old Greece …>>

That love will live on in Kevin’s poetry, which his friends and family will ever celebrate. And we will ever celebrate Kevin himself.

The celebration of Kevin in Classical Continuum, which started with the posting of October 15, is destined to continue in future postings.

Those who are interested to join in planning such a continuation are encouraged to contact the present writer, Gregory Nagy, gnagy@fas.harvard.edu.

Those who are eager to send condolences to Kevin’s family are encouraged to contact Elizabeth Terry, Administrator, Lowell House, 10 Holyoke Place, Cambridge, MA 02138, eterry@fas.harvard.edu   or  lo-admin@fas.harvard.edu.

It is most fitting that our dear Beth has kindly volunteered to serve as point of contact, since Lowell House has been the academic and spiritual home for Kevin’s life and times at Harvard University.

Sailing toward Kythera

There is a ship of genius
Crossing the crimson seas
Where perfect mariners sing
Of women they once loved
They have forgotten the cities
The coinage of those towns
As across the reticent seasons
They let the vessel make a way
No one dies aboard the ship
Birds live among the sails
Sometimes a lion and leopardess
Walk the decks in solitaire night
There is an isle called Romance
Where the vessel comes about
Setting its anchors in the sand
As the crew lightly swim ashore
There beneath the palm trees
And avenues of pure cedar
Women take these men and
Strip them of all remorse
The mariners rest ashore
Among the rocks and fields
As women make beds of promise
And soon the boat disappears
Just as the captain only wants
A wife to be at his side
In the glossy nights when sleep
Covers the sky with dry stars –
So the young navigator
With a sheaf of charts and compass
Is the only one who knows
The course to this flawless isle
On the wooden ship of genius
Just like a bride and groom
Kindness and fidelity are
Quietly and ritually joined
The universe allows this gift
Like a bird dives to water
With beauty overwhelming
The moral experience of grief
Beware as you enter that ship
To know what you believe
For without oars or pilot even
Winged canvas the vessel goes
If your aim is not true
You should not walk that deck
For the bubble in the compass
Was not formed by life on earth
Patient faithful and so strong
You might one day reach
Those entire isles of love
If you know those songs
There the women will take
All your sorrow and fatigue
And bathed by their kindness
Your blood will be renewed
A sound of bees and cicadas
Will assuage your thirst
When you sleep the women
Shall quietly remove your heart
Be aware as you set sail
That you shall not return
To the orchards and the gardens
For you are now alone at sea
Each word that you speak
Like a footstep advances
The vessel across green water
Where white birds are silent
Remember this election
And its complete ideal
For no one knows your freedom
Having gone beyond the world
Then perfectly they appear
Those who have apprehended
Truth and abandoned all
Expectation of affection
What is it they know
That so exceeds our lives
Going beyond all experience
Even the gifts of love


Authentic Happiness

Happiness that is authentic is neither transferable nor fungible and is the one cause of our true life in both its efficient and sufficient forms. By true life I understand that medium of consciousness which is not impelled by the sensible world so that its aim might remain only unchanged. Such happiness would be without intent or volition, not because it lacks all awareness or direction but because it accepts that volition and intention are impersonal and never individual. This is a condition where causality in the universe is explicit or overt and the nature of duration is apprehended as being without time. Happiness is a situation that is receptive but without any consequential desire or ambition, for if someone who is happy knows of their trajectory in life and trusts in that ambit it is not simply that their aim is true but that if one inhabits such a vision which is truthful then all purpose is incorporated in this world, as causality there is fully simultaneous and completely engaged and without discrete sequence. In this light, to be authentic is to be perfectly plentiful and without mimetic or emulative quality: that is the nature of the genuine, particularly as it applies to the being and existence of happiness. One who is happy is always attempting to express an understanding of how the unique atemporal narrative of the kosmos can be represented and this includes the profound and implicit pattern of that which is unknown or which we are not. In this model even the experience of grief becomes acceptable, as with Achilles as he stood before his apprehension of fame, an awareness of causality which he both perceived and conceived; for that instance signified the termination of his humanity as a vernacular medium or event. In this there is only the mystery of election, there is no possible syllogism nor any prospect of adultery. In that city of love there is no body and in the city of light there is no one. Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas …


Terminus ad quem

I first encountered consciousness as an objective medium when, a boy walking alone in the coastal hills of southern China, I became aware of the landscape as a living presence about me, one which both supplied and supported all understanding as I moved about that bare terrain and shore. The paddy-fields, stony stream beds, the circular tombs and walled villages, the bare hills themselves and their immediate coast, all this filled my sense of person and reception. In retrospect, those times marked my first conception of the world.

So all of life has, in various ways, been an attempt to retrieve those moments, that apperceptive experience of natural beauty when we move beyond ourselves, a sensibility only accessible during instants of mental and emotional solitude. For me that is the real and substantial consciousness which truly weighs our life and its proficiency and all else has been a long and arduous venture to reform those transparent incidents. In terms of moral sentience, place has always preceded person in how we are transformed.

Sailing, in many different seas but particularly during two crossings of the Atlantic—when being out there in the middle of a swelling and curving ocean—marked a like effort: twice, navigating a fine old Fife ketch and another time aboard one of the old tall-ships. Swimming the Hellespont was a similar circumstance, where the swim briefly transported me towards another kind of discernment, when the swim became ‘a work of art’, and hence both apperceptive and untimely, when all of sequence and temporal instant fell away and briefly ceased. In later years the practice of rowing on a river replaced those earlier nautical endeavours, but the point has always remained identical.

Likewise, the act of walking has perhaps been my most consistent means for refounding that original model of voluntary cognisance, and I have walked in Africa, India, Scotland, and New England, but most successfully in southern Greece. Being a solitary pedestrian translates us retroactively toward an initial form of human reflection where only landscape and sky, the angles and play of light, birds and terrestrial creatures, are present. So much is revealed during those rare events about the absolutely impersonal aspects of our mortal kind and arguably, those occasions recapitulate the material origins of human consciousness as homo habilus once moved northward and into the rest of the earth.

For many decades now I have also closely read the literature of ancient heroes and heroines, the world of late bronze age agōn and pathos, where the hypothetical individual is represented in situations of isolation and marginality, within narratives that are telling and indicative of our greater vehicle and frame, the intimate and supernal kosmos. There, all unseasonality is dissolved and dissipated and the ground of natural and potentially transcendental life becomes portrayed for its implicating action. On such occasions the valence of determination and extension, the knowledge that one’s aim is true, and the discipline that simultaneously secures our socially peripheral instancy—despite the inevitable quality of constant loss—is made firm and changeless, stable and without decay. The heroic—and its corollary affects of grief and despair—is simply a refined and streamlined mode of consciousness, something perceived, like the epistemology of fame.

Ultimately, the work and art of Poetry, a work which engages us upon the boundaries of language and emotion and where the remote exceeds the corporeal in mental force, that has always been—for half a century now—my most significant and most effective or instrumental exertion. For there all of experience and apperception might be reiterated and re-enacted in terms of metaphor: imagery that ideally enters and amplifies, magnifies our reception of kosmos, but on a non-subjective register.

There is one further medium however, one that is more intangible and actually and naturally ineffable: that is the place of prayer in life or what in Sanskrit is referred to as dhyāna, ‘profound reflection’. The knowledge that is acquired or experienced whilst in that condition is neither to be discovered nor achieved anywhere else in life and it is those unworldly ideas which convey the supporting planes for all practical generation and profession of verbal or literal metaphor. In that place there exists another dimension of causality which is not quotidian and I would completely assert that—in the various formulations of psychic event which I have presented above, where apperception is appointed—metaphor supplies the elements and substance of indelibly human and timely consciousness, the exchange of which makes us both potentially ideal and so invulnerable.


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