Monday, April 11, 2016

#SOL16: Rob, John Keats and Olivia - Throw The Lights Away

Rob at the window of a place we stayed on the seacoast in Ireland.

Let me begin my dream.
I come - I see thee,
as thou standest there,
Beckon me out into the wintry air. 
 - John Keats, from the poem, "To Fanny"


When I first met Rob I was just 29. We met at graduate school--each of us majoring in English and the attraction we each felt for one another was rather instant. Briefly into our courtship, Rob told me about a reoccurring dream he had for several years. Rob began having the dream when he was in his mid 20s. He was then 33.

In the dream, Rob enters a large room in a library. Old books line the walls and distant stacks and the room is all but empty save the lean young man who is standing next to a lectern towards the front of the room. High ceilings arc above the stacks of books. And maybe there is stained glass windows, or maybe not.

The dream is fluid, moving, changing.

As Rob makes his way towards the man he realizes it is John Keats, the English poet, who turns to greet him.  They are just two young men in their mid 20s, separated by 165 years meeting in an old library.  Rob and Keats exchange a few words and Keats motions to him to read the tome that is opened and resting on the lectern. With that, Keats dissolves or sometimes he steps to the side and Rob walks to the book and leans over the lectern to read.

"So, don't stop. What's in the book?"

"It's strange because in some dreams there is partial letter to Fanny Brawne from Keats written on the page. At other times there's only a name written by hand and everything else is blank."

"Who was Fanny Brawne?"

"His lover."

"Strange dream. Is the name, Fanny?"

"No it isn't and I'm sorry to say it isn't yours."

"That's okay."

"The name is Olivia."

"Olivia? Are you sure?"

"Yeah, and I don't know any Olivia's."

I am startled by what he says. And though I want to tell him a truth, it feels awkward somehow to
reveal what I know and so I am quiet reevaluating what this man is starting to mean to me.


Two years later Rob and I will be visiting Trinity College in Dublin and we are in the Old Library where the Book of Kells is displayed. After we take a long look at the two pages that were displayed that day, I ask him if this library is like the one in his dream.  He smiles and tells me, yes.  We are in Dublin, in part, for me to search the birth registries at the Joyce House to see if there is a record of my birth. I know the year I was born, the month and day and the place. What I did not know until I was 28 was that I also had a different name while I lived at an orphanage in Dublin.

"What do you mean I had a different name?" I ask my mom as we sit in her kitchen sipping tea.

"Oh, didn't I tell you?" she asks so matter-of-factly.

"No, you didn't."

"Well, you were Muldoon. That's right. Olivia Muldoon was your name when you lived in Dublin.'

It will be several weeks after Rob has shared his dream with me that I will tell him what I have learned at my mother's kitchen table.  For the span of two years, I was called Olivia Muldoon.


And it will be that name we have come to find in Ireland during the summer of 1990. And though there will be no record of my birth for us to find, we will spend the length of morning reading ledger after ledger looking for the name Olivia Muldoon before quitting Dublin and making our way north to the seacoast town of Grange. There I will sleep while Rob explores the seacoast and cliffs. Later he will take me in hand and we will sit well above the Atlantic watching the wicked surf fill and recede as the wind picks up.


Within our lives there is that which resists explanations of logic, which turns a deaf ear to matters of justification. We know more than we can say.

I think of this as I walk in the morning, recalling Wallace Stevens's lines from "The Man With the Blue Guitar."

Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark...

Say what you see in the dark.
In the dark.

Now, after Rob's too early death, when grief grips--these matters of faith I pushed to the side feel more urgent, more necessary than I remember them in previous years. What calls to me, finds me restless. It calms me to think that in another space and time, John Keats and Rob are meeting--old friends who have passed beyond what we can know.


  1. Mary Ann,
    Lovely! Loving and tender at every turn. I hope you will turn these thoughts and feelings into a book some day, in time, in your good time. I remember Bill Coffin, chaplain at Yale at the time, saying at a memorial service of a mutual friend, "It's darkest just before dawn." I don't know if the quote was original with Bill or whether he lifted it from some Biblical aphorism. I've heard the antithesis of that which is that it's darkest just before it goes completely black. Regardless of quotes and darkness and light, I hope you find some solace in that wonderful poetry and Rob's dreams. Take care.

    1. Thank you Gary. Mother is solace in remembering and knowing others, like you bear witness to it through the blog. Thank you, again for taking time to read and comment.

  2. Wow. I'm so sorry for your loss. This gave me goosebumps. Your slice caught my eye because, years ago, I wrote my undergrad thesis on John Keats, who is still one of my favorite poets of all time. Rob is definitely hanging out with Keats. Thanks for this was a letter from the other side.

    1. Thank you Michelle. I hadn't thought of it as a letter from the other side, but in some ways it is. Thanks for noticing that.

  3. Hi Mary Ann Reilly,
    My console for you. Your writing skill is very good. Hope you get rid out of it and be successful in your life. Thank you for your sharing.

    1. You are welcome. Thanks for taking time to read and respond.


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