I have two poems for today.
The first, by Donagh McDonagh is a eulogy for fellow poet and Irishman, Charles Donnelly, who died in Spain fighting for the Republicans at age twenty three.
from: 'Charles Donnelly'
Dead in Spain 1937
Of what a quality is courage made
That he who gently walked our city streets
Talking of poetry or philosophy,
Should lie like any martyred soldier
His brave and fertile brain dried quite away
And the limbs that carried him from cradle to death's
Growing down into foreign clay.
Gone from amongst us and his life not half begun
Who had followed Jack-o'-Lantern truth and liberty
Where it led wavering from park-bed to prison-cell
Into a strange land, dry misery;
And then into Spain's slaughter, sniper's aim
And his last shocked embrace of earth's lineaments.
Can I picture truly that swift end
Who see him dead with eye that still repents?
What end, what quietus can I see for him,
Who had the quality of life in every vein?
Life with its passion and poetry and its proud
Ignorance of eventual loss or gain . . .
This first fruit of our harvest, willing sacrifice
Upon the alter of his integrity,
Lost to us. Somewhere his death is charted,
A signature affixed to his brief history.
They gave him a gun,
A trigger to pull that any peasant finger
Could have pulled as well, a barrel to keep sweet
That any eye from Valencia to Madrid
Could have looked through.
His body stopped a bullet and little else,
Stopped no tank or French 75
From crunching over roads of human bones.
His brain might have done that
But it has melted into Spanish soil,
But speaks into my brain in parody
Of the voice that was its servant,
And speaks only what it spoke before.
The intricate cells, the labyrinthine ways,
The multicoloured images that lurked and shone,
The dreams betrayed into expression,
Melted into a red earth, richer for olive crop.
And through the pleasant European landscapes
The legions march; theodolite and map
Plan out the tactical approach, the gun emplacement,
The unencumbered field for cemetery.
The second poem, by Donnelly himself, is entitled, simply, 'Poem'.
It seems eerily prophetic of his own death:
Between rebellion as a private study and the public
Defiance is simple action only which will flicker
Catlike, for spring. Whether at nerve-roots is secret
Iron, there's no diviner can tell, only the moment can
Simple and unclear moment, on a morning utterly
And under circumstances different from what you'd
Your flag is public over granite. Gulls fly above it.
Whatever the issue of the battle is, your memory
Is public, for them to pull awry with crooked hands,
Moist eyes. And villages' reputations will be built on
Inaccurate accounts of your campaigns. You're name for
Figure stone-struck beneath damp Dublin sky.
In a delaying action, perhaps, on a hillside in remote parish,
Outposts correctly placed, retreat secured to wood, bridge
Against pursuit, sniper may sight you carelessly
Or death may follow years in strait confinement, where
Is uniform as ceremony, lacking only fruit
Or on the barracks square before the sun casts shadow.
Name, subject of all considered words, praise and blame
Irrelevant, the public talk which sounds the same on
Tongue as true, you'll be with Parnell and with Pearse.
Name alderman will raise a cheer with, teacher make
Oblique in class, and boys and women spin gum of
On qualities attributed in error.
Man, dweller in mountain huts, possessor of colored mice,
Skilful in minor manual turns, patron of obscure
Gaelic swordsmanship and medieval armory,
The technique of the public man, the masked servilities
Not for you, Master of military trade, you give
Like Raleigh, Lawrence, Childers, your services but not
(Charles Donnelly 1914-1937)
For more on Charles Donnelly go here:
For more on Donagh McDonagh go here: