‘We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric,
but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry’
W.B Yeats, ‘Anima Hominis’, Essays (1924)
Could he hear the firing squads day after day?
Did the rattle carry from Kilmainham Gaol
to Merrion Square as the poem quickened?
Easter had been as late as it could be
that year. Unlikely saviours came forth,
commonplace clerks, scribblers, pedagogues.
The English sent a gunboat up the Liffey.
It hollowed out most of Sackville Street –
Clery’s, Liberty Hall, the GPO –
and the ‘terrible beauty’ was born,
the glare of rebellion, of sacrifice.
As the poem grew, swallows and swifts
twittered and screeched over the park in the square
and above the broken stones of the city.
The English, as always, overreacted:
turned, through brutality, a revolt – inept,
unpopular – into a decisive,
echoing blow for independence.
The swifts had gone when he finished the poem
in late September. He published it widely
four years later – via London and New York –
that murderous autumn when he knew for sure
what he had written had become true.
‘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.’