Tag Archives: Irish Poetry

Remembering Francis Ledwidge, Poet and Soldier

Just outside the village of Slane, County Meath is the Francis Ledwidge Museum. The museum is housed in the family home with a yard and garden to the rear.

Francis was born in this small cottage that dates from 1886, the 8th of 9 children. His father died soon after the 9th child was born.  Desperately poor, their mother laboured in the fields to keep bread on the table until the eldest son, Patrick  was sufficiently educated to get a job and help the family. However, Patrick contracted tuberculosis and had to return home  and their mother was forced to return to her back -breaking labouring.

Francis left school at 15 and took whatever work he could get – he worked as a farm labourer, as a groom, in a copper mine and as a foreman on the roads. All the while he was writing poetry and having some poems published in the local newspaper.  His poetry was brought to the attention of Lord Dunsany who arranged for publication in London and who also got introductions to literary figures of the day.

Francis Ledwidge known as ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  (Image Wikipedia Commons)

Having for a time been involved with the Irish Volunteers who sought Home Rule, Francis enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on October 24, 1914. It is possible that his decision to join up may have been influenced  by the fact that he was disappointed in love. He wrote to a friend  saying that he looked forward to poetry and fame after the war and that by joining he hoped to bring peace to the world.

He came home on leave to Slane at Christmas and was shocked to learn of the death of a little boy he knew well, who had herded cows past the Ledwidge house. Francis  wrote what is one of my favourite Ledwidge poems, A Little Boy in the Morning

He will not come, and still I wait. 
He whistles at another gate 
Where angels listen. Ah I know 
He will not come, yet if I go 
How shall I know he did not pass 
barefooted in the flowery grass?  

Then in 1915 he wrote this lovely Lullaby to a tired child

Shall I take the rainbow out of the sky

And the moon from the well in the lane

And break them in pieces to coax your eye

To slumber a wee while again?

While based in Basingstoke he heard of the death in childbirth of the girl he had loved and he got leave to attend her funeral in Manchester. He wrote

To One Dead

 A blackbird singing

On a moss-upholstered stone,

Bluebells swinging,

Shadows wildly blown,

A song in the wood,

A ship on the sea.

The song was for you

and the ship was for me.

On August 7, 1915  Francis and his comrades in D Company landed in Suvla Bay in Gallipoli. The conditions were awful, the stench from corpses, dysentery, and swarming flies all added to the horror. When they pulled out on September 30th, 19,000 of their comrades had been killed. They were sent marching towards Salonika, but Francis became ill and he was sent back to England at about the same time as the Easter Rising was happening in Dublin. His good friends Patrick Pearse and Thomas McDonagh were among the first to be executed. He then wrote what is probably his most famous poem

A Lament for Thomas MacDonagh

He shall not hear the bittern cry

In the wild sky, where he is lain,

Nor voices of the sweeter birds,

Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows

Blowing to flame the golden cup

Of many an upset daffodil.

But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,

And pastures poor with greedy weeds,

Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn,

Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

Now in B Company, 1st Battalion of the 29th Division, he set sail for France and eventually ended up in Ypres where in mid July the Third Battle of Ypres began. on July 31st when engaged in road marking a shell exploded near him. The chaplain wrote: ‘Ledwidge killed, blown to bits’

The Ledwidge home is now a Museum where it is possible read from his many letters, and to see how he lived in his beloved Slane.

MemorIal in the Museum Garden

It was a special thrill to visit this place, his home and his garden, just a few weeks after the  centenary of his death.

He is buried at Artillery Wood Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium.

Image result for ''CWGC LEDWIDGE FRANCIS EDWARD ARTILLERY WOOD''

The grave of the 29 year old Francis Ledwidge (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission)

References

Francis Ledwidge ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  published by Francis Ledwidge Museum

Commonwealth Graves Commission

Published collections

Songs of the Fields published 1916

Songs of Peace  published 1917

Last Songs  published 1918

 

 

 

 

 

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Seamus Heaney’s Flaggy Shore

image Seamus Heaney was one of Ireland’s best loved poets. His death came suddenly on August 30, 2013, leaving an entire nation bereaved. While his work and his words live on in bookshelves and on bedside tables across the land, he is greatly missed. He had such a way with words and such a mellow speaking voice that I for one could listen to him all day long.
imageOn my recent trip along the Wild Atlantic Way I happened upon The Flaggy Shore in County Clare on the shores of Galway Bay. So here in front of me was a seascape that inspired this great man. On a grey day the leaden sky hung over a silvery sea lapping a silvery grey shore. I could not help but wonder how such a scene could inspire anyone!  And therein is his greatness. I recall reading that Heaney said of his poem about the Flaggy Shore ‘we drove on into this glorious exultation of air and sea and swans.’ The swans were not on the lake beside the shore on the day of my visit but there certainly was an abundance of air and sea!

Perhaps it takes a man of Heaney’s caliber and talent to see such beauty in what could be considered a relatively mundane landscape! Many know of this poem as ‘The Flaggy Shore’ but the correct title is ‘Postscript’.

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Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white

Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open. – Seamus Heaney
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Seamus Heaney, poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature passed by this Flaggy Shore before me. I am so glad he did. He died three years ago. His legacy lives on.

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Heritage Week: W.B Yeats, Poet, in Drumcliffe

William Butler Yeats  (1865-1939) was one of Ireland’s best known and best-loved poets. One of the great advantages to living here in the mid-west of Ireland is that on  the 255 mile, 6 hour-long  trips back home to Donegal, the county of my childhood, I have to pass through Drumcliffe, in County Sligo. Drumcliffe is the burial  place of W.B .Yeats, and a mandatory coffee stop here down the years has now become a family tradition and marks our ‘arrival’ in the north-west.

Drumcliffechurch

Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 but spent much of his childhood in Sligo. He loved the old celtic stories of Ireland and even though born into a Protestant family of Anglo Irish origin he became something of nationalist,advocating the use of the Irish language. In 1899 he co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. His love for Maud Gonne, an English-born Irish revolutionary, is legendary, having proposed to her and been refused 5 times in all.  In 1917, he married an English girl, half his age. Her name was Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom he called George.  They had a good marriage in spite of  the age difference. In 1922 he became a Senator serving two terms and in 1923 he became the first Irish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He died in 1939  in Roquebrune-Cap-MartinFrance . In 1948, his remains were brought home to Ireland by the Irish Naval Service and re-interred in Drumcliffe.

Yeats was a prolific writer, and has left us short stories,essays, collections of folk tales and myths as well as poetry. In the carpark  at Drumcliffe there is a wonderful interpretation of the Yeats poem, and one of my favourites, ‘He wishes for the Cloths of  Heaven’

ClothsofHeaven2

ClothsofHeaven1Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Yeats grave is very simple and is located near the door of the church, where his grandfather was once rector

Yeatsgrave Yeats had clearly expressed his wish to be buried here and dictated  the inscription on his headstone in the last stanza of his poem ‘Under Bare Ben Bulben’s Head’:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Ben Bulben is a magnificent mountain that dominates the landscape in this area for miles around. The beautiful St Columba’s Church in Drumcliffe lies beneath it, as can be seen in this photo taken from  his grave with Ben Bulbin in the background.BenBulbin

Among my personal favourites are those poems inspired by the great beauty of the countryside such as The Wild Swans at Coole ( which is in Co. Galway)

The  trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty Swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Yeats love of swans is reflected in the beautiful door of the church

Drumcliffechurchdoor

Swans on the doors of the church –  I pulled them closed for a moment just to get a picture!  I know that somewhere I have more details on these doors, but cannot find it at the moment.

drumcliffedoordetailThe Wild Swans at Coole?

Drumcliffe is a lovely place – great coffee shop, a wonderful high cross and remains of an ancient round tower. If you drop by here, I can guarantee that it will instil at the very least a curiosity about our most wonderful poet.

WB_Yeats_nd

W.B Yeats.Poet, Essayist, Politician, Irishman . Image Wikimedia Commons.

W.B. Yeats  – a magnificent part of our Heritage!

References :

Wikipedia.org

http://www.online-literature.com/yeats/

Running to Paradise Poems by W.B Yeats   An Introductory selection  by Kevin Crossley-Holland

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