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EASTER, 1916

‘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.’




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • Mary Clark
    March 28, 2016

    So apropos of today’s news. I’m tweeting this.

  • John Huddart
    March 29, 2016

    Just a touch of irony there for the timorous hand of the poet, not as brave or worthy as the clerk! But then poetry likes to stand back and avoid the bullets for what good is a dead poet, or poem, and this isn’t one of those! Another great ending!

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