Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day 23: P.H. Pearse and Irish Independence

Yesterday's post was the poem, "The Pine," by Saunders Lewis, poet, educator, and co-founder of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party.  Today takes us back to Ireland, and a poem by another nationalist, Patrick Henry Pearse.  A schoolteacher, poet, and barrister, Pearse also was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which organized the Easter Rising in  April 1916.  Pearse led the Irish Volunteers in taking control of key government buildings in Dublin; it was Pearse who proclaimed establishment of a republic during the Rising.  After six days of heavy fighting with English troops, Pearse ordered a surrender.  Pearse and fourteen other leaders of the Rising were executed by firing squad.  Although the Rising didn't have much support among the general population, Britain's heavy handed response and the executions of leaders helped build popular support for Irish independence, which led to armed rebellion and then establishment first of the Irish Free State, and eventually to a fully independent republic.

Pearse is one of the four individuals named in W.B. Yeats' poem, Easter 1916, which captured the impact of the Rising and England's response in the line "A terrible beauty is born."

Today's poem is Renunciation, translated from the Irish by the author; and included in the New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, Thomas Kinsella, editor.  It is as if Pearse foresaw his death in the fight for Irish independence.


Naked I saw thee,
O beauty of beauty,
And I blinded my eyes
For fear I should fail.

I heard thy music,
O melody of melody,
And I closed my ears
For fear I should falter.

I tasted thy mouth,
O sweetness of sweetness,
And I hardened my heart
For fear of my slaying.

I turned my back
On the vision I had shaped,
And to this road before me
I turned my face.

I have turned my face
To this road before me,
To the deed that I see
And the death I shall die.

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