Tag Archive | Easter Rising

‘Twas down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I

(National Poetry Month, Day 24)

flag of irish republic

In observance of today’s 98th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland, I present “Easter, 1916” by W.B. Yeats. I’ll let the poem speak for itself in this blog post, but I welcome discussion in the comments!

Easter, 1916
by W.B. 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 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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A Passion poem

(National Poetry Month, Day 17)

red rose

During Holy Week each year, I like to read “I See His Blood Upon the Rose,” a poem by Irish nationalist poet Joseph Mary Plunkett. Plunkett was an eccentric character: a sickly young man who traveled around Dublin in medieval-esque costume. A leader of the Easter Rising in 1916, he was arrested by British troops and married his fiancée Grace Gifford in jail on the night before his execution. Although Plunkett was not the most practical person, his mystical poetry is artistic and provides evidence of his great faith. I’d like to share Plunkett’s “I See His Blood Upon the Rose” with you, and immediately below the poem, you’ll find an adaptation of a short section of my dissertation in which I discuss this poem.

 

I See His Blood Upon the Rose
by 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.

 

In “I See His Blood Upon the Rose,” Plunkett reveals the holiness latent in the humanity of Christ. In this poem, which is perhaps best-known and most widely anthologized work, is clear evidence of Plunkett’s mystical vision of the nearness of Christ in the natural world. Plunkett ties national aspirations and religious devotion are closely together, creating a seamless effect. In an uncritical 1918 assessment, Peter McBrien wrote of Plunkett: “That flexibility, that combination of strength and sweetness…, that sunlit sense of the nearness of God which irradiates all his work and shone from the man himself, the white-heat intensity of his love of God and man and Ireland, which spelt its winning graciousness over everything he did, all that will bear witness, in the poems he has bequeathed to us, a soul of Spanish steel tempered in icy water” (36). The natural imagery in this poem is evocative, although simple, since it involves multiple senses. The language that the persona uses to describe the admired Christ is very similar to that which could be used in the description of a beloved. Although this poem is about the constant reminders in the natural world of Christ’s Passion, it is not foreboding, but comforting. The constant presence of Christ in nature is a source of solace for the persona.

It seems as though a concluding stanza could be added to the poem in order to provide a sense of closure; perhaps a discussion of the reminders in nature of the Resurrection would round out the poem. Yet Plunkett chooses not to include a stanza of this sort, possibly because he intends the poem to indicate the constant significance of Christ’s sacrifice for man.

And if Christ’s sacrifice is omnipresent, it can be emulated. Beginning the poem with the image of the rose, a symbol for Ireland, Plunkett ties the sacramental nature of this poem to his denominational and national experience. Further, the Passion of Christ is evoked not only in the beauty and power of nature, as in the rose, the stars, snow, rain, flowers, thunder, birds, and rocks, but also in “every thorn” (ln. 11); that is, Christ’s suffering is tied to the suffering of his followers. For someone of Plunkett’s mindset and political bent, this statement has implications for the nationalistic movement, as well as for religious expression.

This poem hinges on the acceptance that God is present and active in the world, and on the assumption that the Incarnation and Resurrection have sanctified the universe. One might explain the permeation of nature by God’s love in this poem by applying a principle that Steven J. Brown, SJ discusses in “Personification”: “it is one thing to think of various separate objects as endowed with personality; it is quite a different thing to see all nature pervaded by one great Presence and Personality, to see it as a manifestation of its Maker” (416). “I See His Blood Upon the Rose,” we see an overall infusion of God in nature, leading not to pantheism but to a reminder of Christian spirituality through what Plunkett considers to be God’s strategic placement of natural symbols, which function as God’s “written words” (ln. 8).