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Friday, April 2, 2010

An Easter Poem

Since I discovered it maybe five or six years ago in the Bloodaxe anthology Staying Alive (which is one of the best poetry anthologies I have come across) I revisit this poem every Easter.

At Poll Salach
Easter Sunday 1998

While I was looking for Easter snow on the hills
You showed me, like a concentration of violets
Or a fragment from some future unimagined sky,
A single spring gentian shivering at our feet.

Michael Longley

I adore this poem, it evokes what one must feel on the first clarity of seeing, the "oh, oh" wonder of realisation.

I am delighted to see that a gentian looks like a blue primrose.  I had to look in google images to see what it would be like.  It reminds me of a primrose anyway.

I think Longley wrote this poem after the Good Friday Agreement but I know he wrote a poem called Ceasefire as well.  I wonder what Yeats would have made of the change in the times but don't they say that the more things change the more they remain the same!

Moving on to Yeat's famous poem.  When I read this in secondary school I had goosebumps and for its sense of time and place I still consider it to be a great commentary and poem.  The oxymoron of the line A terrible beauty is born is legendary.  Too long a sacrifice/ Can make a stone of the heart. seems an especially potent  line to me tonight.

Easter 1916
September 25, 1916

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 winged 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.

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