Thursday, 31 March 2016



Of all the leaders of the Easter Rising, Patrick Pearse is perhaps the most fascinating.  Poet, teacher, educator, headmaster, Irish language enthusiast, lawyer, orator, cultural nationalist, he was an idealistic and intelligent man as well as a fervent and passionate revolutionary. Pearse was the figurehead of the Rising, the one who read the Proclamation outside the GPO and also the main man behind the writing of it. 

PH Pearse or Padraig MacPiaras or simply 'Pat' to his family and friends, was a complex character and also a contradictory one, held equally in admiration and criticism by biographers since. While his speeches from 1914 on are filled with an inflammatory rhetoric of violence and a lust for 'blood sacrifice', the same man was to be found faltering at the sight of bloodshed in the GPO and ultimately surrendered to prevent any further civilian casualties. 

After he was executed, General Blackadder, President of the court martial is acknowledged to have said of Pearse: "I have had to condemn to death one of the finest characters I have ever come across. There must be something very wrong in the state of things that makes a man like Patrick Pearse a rebel."

Pearse wrote this poem, one of his most famous, for his mother Margaret, urging her not to grieve for her losses, knowing that he and his brother Willie (who only played a small part in the rebellion) would inevitably be killed for their part in the Rising.  Also included below is the poem he wrote in his cell in Kilmainham, the night before his execution.


Mother - Patrick Pearse

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow - And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.

The Wayfarer - Patrick Pearse
The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Wishes For a Son


Thomas McDonagh was not only an accomplished poet but a playwright also, as well as teacher and lecturer of English Literature at UCD. An unlikely revolutionary and Rising leader to say the least. He was an amicable person by all accounts, perhaps the most personable of all the Rising leaders,  as well as an effective rebellion planner and leader. His poems are lyrical pieces that focus mainly on his family and generally relating to life and love. This poem however, also hints at the reasons why he was partaking in the Rising - for the good of the children of Ireland, the generations to come.

Perhaps it is McDonagh's epitaph that speaks the truest of him. The British soldiers who carried out the executions said that although all the leaders died well, McDonagh died 'like a prince.' 


'Wishes For My Son, Born On St Cecilia's Day, 1912' - Thomas McDonagh
Now, my son, is life for you,
And I wish you joy of it,-
Joy of power in all you do,
Deeper passion, better wit
Than I had who had enough,
Quicker life and length thereof,
More of every gift but love.

Love I have beyond all men,
Love that now you share with me-
What have I to wish you then
But that you be good and free,
And that God to you may give
Grace in stronger days to live?

For I wish you more than I
Ever knew of glorious deed,
Though no rapture passed me by
That an eager heart could heed,
Though I followed heights and sought
Things the sequel never brought.

Wild and perilous holy things
Flaming with a martyr's blood,
And the joy that laughs and sings
Where a foe must be withstood,
Joy of headlong happy chance
Leading on the battle dance.

But I found no enemy,
No man in a world of wrong,
That Christ's word of charity
Did not render clean and strong-
Who was I to judge my kind,
Blindest groper of the blind?

God to you may give the sight
And the clear, undoubting strength
Wars to knit for single right,
Freedom's war to knit at length,
And to win through wrath and strife,
To the sequel of my life.

But for you, so small and young,
Born on Saint Cecilia's Day,
I in more harmonious song
Now for nearer joys should pray-
Simpler joys: the natural growth
Of your childhood and your youth,
Courage, innocence, and truth:

These for you, so small and young,
In your hand and heart and tongue.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Blood Upon the Rose

Joseph Mary Plunkett was the youngest of the signatories of the Rising at 28 years old and also by far, the most eccentric. He was known for his extravagant nature, often to be seen waltzing about Dublin in a cape in flamboyant flair. All his life Plunkett suffered from poor health but it was never a deterrent. He was a very well-travelled and well-read young man as well as a poet. He was the military strategist for the Rising and attended the GPO with his throat bandaged from his most recent operation. He was married to his fiancee Grace Gifford in Kilmainham jail, the night before his execution.

Plunkett wrote many poems, but this perhaps is his most famous, written in the mystical tradition and expressing the intensity of his own Christian faith. In retrospect, it almost speaks of an uncanny prophetic doom of blood sacrifice, of which his part in the Rising would condemn him. 



I See His Blood Upon the Rose - Joseph Mary Plunkett

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter 1916

 'A terrible beauty is born...'
Easter Monday, a hundred years ago, Ireland took the first step in pursuing an Irish Republic with the Easter Rising of 1916. This armed insurrection was ultimately a failure, but from its ashes rose triumph in the resulting War of Independence and Treaty. 

There are many startling feats about the Easter Rising, but perhaps the most noteworthy is that it was a rebellion led by poets and writers. 

All week, I will be posting some of their poems here to mark the centenary occasion as well as poems relating to the Rising. Up first is Yeats now famous response to the Rising and that immortal line: 'All changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born' (-the dream of independence is established, but so too militant nationalism) that captured not only the pathos of the event, but the transformative feeling in the aftermath of the Rising so brilliantly. 

Easter 1916 - WB Yeats

I have met them at close of day   
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey   
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head   
Or polite meaningless words,   
Or have lingered awhile and said   
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done   
Of a mocking tale or a gibe   
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,   
Being certain that they and I   
But lived where motley is worn:   
All changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent   
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers   
When, young and beautiful,   
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school   
And rode our wingèd horse;   
This other his helper and friend   
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,   
So sensitive his nature seemed,   
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,   
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,   
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone   
Through summer and winter seem   
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,   
The rider, the birds that range   
From cloud to tumbling cloud,   
Minute by minute they change;   
A shadow of cloud on the stream   
Changes minute by minute;   
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,   
And a horse plashes within it;   
The long-legged moor-hens dive,   
And hens to moor-cocks call;   
Minute by minute they live:   
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.   
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part   
To murmur name upon name,   
As a mother names her child   
When sleep at last has come   
On limbs that had run wild.   
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;   
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith   
For all that is done and said.   
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;   
And what if excess of love   
Bewildered them till they died?   
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride   
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:   
A terrible beauty is born.

*Listen to Liam Neeson reading the poem here:

Sunday, 27 March 2016

An Easter Carol

 'this is the time of loves...'
I love the joyous tone in this poem. Like many Easter poems, religious joy is fused to jubilant effect with the joy of spring.
An Easter Carol - Christina Rosetti
Spring bursts to-day,
For Christ is risen and all the earth’s at play.
Flash forth, thou Sun,
The rain is over and gone, its work is done.
Winter is past,
Sweet Spring is come at last, is come at last.
Bud, Fig and Vine,
Bud, Olive, fat with fruit and oil and wine.
Break forth this morn
In roses, thou but yesterday a Thorn.
Uplift thy head,
O pure white Lily through the Winter dead.
Beside your dams
Leap and rejoice, you merry-making Lambs.
All Herds and Flocks
Rejoice, all Beasts of thickets and of rocks.
Sing, Creatures, sing,
Angels and Men and Birds and everything.
All notes of Doves
Fill all our world: this is the time of loves.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Happy Easter/Earth

I just love this time of year, the exhilaration of spring beginning, don't you? This poem captures it simply and singingly.

Easter - Joyce Kilmer

The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
And sings.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Good Friday

Lyrical and profound, as ever from Heaney. (And I just love the inclusion of the moon here -  how unusual, but fitting, as we see.)

Westering - Seamus Heaney

I sit under Rand McNally’s
'Official Map of the Moon’—
The colour of frogskin,
Its enlarged pores held

Open and one called
‘Pitiscus’ at eye level—
Recalling the last night                                                                                                                               In Donegal, my shadow

Neat upon the whitewash
From her bony shine,
The cobbles of the yard
Lit pale as eggs.

Summer had been a free fall
Ending there,
The empty amphitheatre
Of the west. Good Friday

We had started out
Past shopblinds drawn on the afternoon,
Cars stilled outside still churches,
Bikes tilting to a wall;

We drove by,
A dwindling interruption,
As clappers smacked
On a bare altar

And congregations bent
To the studded crucifix.
What nails dropped out that hour?
Roads unreeled, unreeled

Falling light as casts
Laid down
On shining waters.
Under the moon’s stigmata

Six thousand miles away,
I imagine untroubled dust,
A loosening gravity,
Christ weighing by his hands.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Silver Rain

In Time of Silver Rain - Langston Hughes

In time of silver rain
The earth puts forth new life again,
Green grasses grow
And flowers lift their heads,
And over all the plain
The wonder spreads

Of Life,
Of Life,
Of life!

In time of silver rain
The butterflies lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry,
And trees put forth new leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky
As down the roadway
Passing boys and girls
Go singing, too,

In time of silver rain When spring
And life
Are new.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Spring Grass

"Shoots of the big green whisper of the year..."

Yep, it's going to be Spring poems all week here to celebrate its arrival at last.

Spring Grass - Carl Sandburg

Spring grass, there is a dance to be danced for you.
Come up, spring grass, if only for young feet.
Come up, spring grass, young feet ask you.

Smell of the young spring grass,
You're a mascot riding on the wind horses.
You came to my nose and spiffed me. This is your lucky year.

Young spring grass just after the winter,
Shoots of the big green whisper of the year,
Come up, if only for young feet.
Come up, young feet ask you.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Nothing is So Beautiful as Spring

'Nothing is so beautiful as Spring' - I agree! Now with the Vernal Equinox, it is officially here, yay!

Spring - Gerard Manley Hopkins
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         

What is all this juice and all this joy?         
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.         

Monday, 14 March 2016

Spring Again

"let's try, with the practical birds, 
to praise love's ways."

Spring Again - Anne Stevenson

A touch of blue
in the look of the air -
that tangy, Mozartian

unsuspicious colour.
Naive light rounding a
steel-scrubbed corner.

Wide-open beech tree,
bare still,
pregnant with flower.

Who can believe a
summer will relieve
this undernourished hour?

Between Mersh and Averil,
When spray beginneth to springe, 
The lutel fowl hath hire wil...

Though the elm's low bough
that should be in leaf
is not here now.

The thrush is gone
from the brushwood sheaf,
and that blackened thorn

is a rack of hooks
with plastic sacks
to hang wet weather in.

For all that's wrong,
Lenten is come with love to towne. 
New times, old words.

In a light green haze,
let's try, with the practical birds,
to praise love's ways.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Sweet Spring

 "Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;"
Virtue - George Herbert
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky;
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night,
         For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye;
Thy root is ever in its grave,
         And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
My music shows ye have your closes,
         And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season'd timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
         Then chiefly lives. 

Friday, 11 March 2016

After Years

After Years - Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood in the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Poem With Two Endings

 'Death and Life' by Gustav Klimt

Poem With Two Endings - Jane Hirshfield
Say ‘death’ and the whole room freezes –
even the couches stop moving,
even the lamps.
Like a squirrel suddenly aware it is being looked at.

Say the word continuously,
and things begin to go forward.
Your life takes on
the jerky texture of an old film strip.

Continue saying it,
hold it moment after moment inside the mouth,
it becomes another syllable.
A shopping mall swirls around the corpse of a beetle.

Death is voracious, it swallows all the living.
Life is voracious, it swallows all the dead.
Neither is ever satisfied, neither is ever filled,
each swallows and swallows the world.

The grip of life is as strong as the grip of death.

(but the vanished, the vanished beloved, o where?)

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Work of Happiness

The Work of Happiness- May Sarton
I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life's span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Persephone, Falling

A different take on the Persephone myth...

Persephone, Falling - Rita Dove

One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
stooped to pull harder—
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
It is finished. No one heard her.
No one! She had strayed from the herd.

(Remember: go straight to school.
This is important, stop fooling around!
Don’t answer to strangers. Stick
with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.)
This is how easily the pit
opens. This is how one foot sinks into the ground.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Where My Books Go

Today is World Book Day and I can't recall whether I 've posted this poem before here, but my, do I love it so.

Where My Books Go - WB Yeats

All the words that I utter,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm-darken’d or starry bright.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The China Painters

I love Ted Kooser's poetry. The last line of every one is guaranteed to make you swoon.

The China Painters - Ted Kooser 
They have set aside their black tin boxes,   
scratched and dented,
spattered with drops of pink and blue;   
and their dried-up, rolled-up tubes   
of alizarin crimson, chrome green,   
zinc white, and ultramarine;
their vials half full of gold powder;   
stubs of wax pencils;
frayed brushes with tooth-bitten shafts;   
and have gone in fashion and with grace   
into the clouds of loose, lush roses,   
narcissus, pansies, columbine,   
on teapots, chocolate pots,
saucers and cups, the good Haviland dishes   
spread like a garden
on the white lace Sunday cloth,   
as if their souls were bees
and the world had been nothing but flowers. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Ten Syllables for Spring

Hello March, month of daffodils, or what are affectionately known here as 'daffylonglegs.' 

Ten Syllables for Spring - Sue Cowling

buttered trumpets.