Easter 1916

The Easter Rising took place a hundred years ago.  It was an idiotic, doomed adventure that caused hundreds of deaths and maybe led, years later, to Irish independence:

Almost 500 people were killed in the Easter Rising. About 54% were civilians, 30% were British military and police, and 16% were Irish rebels. More than 2,600 were wounded. Most of the civilians were killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. The shelling and the fires it caused left parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.

And, of course, it led to a great poem.  If you’re a terrorist (or, maybe, a freedom fighter), you should hope that you have William Butler Yeats around to make you immortal, to turn your dreams into myth. Here’s the final stanza of “Easter 1916”:

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.

Here’s the proclamation of an Irish republic, signed by some of those whom excess of love bewildered:

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Where All the Ladders Start

I have looked at the novel I’ve been working on in all different seasons, at all different times of day, and I have finally decided its title is Where All the Ladders Start.  Readers of a poetical persuasion will recognize the quote from the ending of the Yeats poem The Circus Animals’ Desertion:

I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

Deciding to give the books in my Last P. I. series titles lifted from poems is one of the many ways in which I strive to be a commercial failure.  Couldn’t I have come up with something clever — liking naming them after numbers, or colors, or letters of the alphabet?

Anyway, I am declaring the novel “pretty much done.”  So you’ll have a chance to take a look at it before very long.

Easter, 1916

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.

The Easter Rising began in Dublin on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Note that the poem has four stanzas, alternating 16 and 24 lines.

Here’s an interactive tour of a Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland, including a manuscript of “Easter, 1916”.

Here is Yeats:

And here is Patrick Pearse, one of those whom “excess of love bewildered” till he died. He was executed by firing squad on May 3, 1916.

Wikipedia says: “Sir John Maxwell, the General Officer commanding the British forces in Ireland, sent a telegram to H.H. Asquith, then Prime Minister, advising him not to return the bodies of Pádraig and Willie Pearse to their family, saying: ‘Irish sentimentality will turn these graves into martyrs’ shrines to which annual processions will be made which would cause constant irritation in this country.'”