Sunday, September 12, 2010

394. The Easter Rising

All is changed, changed utterly,
A terrible beauty is born

-- W.B. Yeats

Idiots, really,
drunk on oratory and illusions:
a poet's rebellion with real bullets.

I love how they went to the tailors,
taking fittings for fine new uniforms,
tunics and belts to be buried in.

It was the style of the thing --
sauntering out, sartorially splendid,
at lunchtime on a public holiday.

Christ is crucified.
Christ is risen.
Christ will live again.

A sidelong smirk, a furtive wave,
Jayzus, Jim, and what’s the craic?
Can’t talk, Joe, I’m on Parade!

The GPO. Left Wheel! Attack!
Look here, young fella, do you mind,
amn’t I next in the queue for stamps!

Kindly leave the premises, madam:
Volunteer Muldoon! On yer bike, missus,
G’wan, get away on out of it.

Run up the flag, the Plough and Stars!
Read out the lengthy Proclamation!
Ehh, ... hell's that fella after sayin’?

Look, here come the bloody Lancers!
Clippety-clopping along the cobblestones:
Volunteers! Five rounds rapid … Fire!

O God, dey do be dead!
Bear up, Muldoon, they are the enemy.
Feck the sojers, dem lubbly horses!

Agnus Dei
qui tollis peccata mundi

The English are capitalists, says Connolly,
they would never destroy public property!
Soon shells rain down on the central city.

Machine guns, snipers, rake the roadsteads,
and in little heaps, in shapeless huddled rags,
stray civilians go down in the crossfire.

Explosions, the zing and ring and ping
of bullets caroming off the stonework:
Get away, ya bleedin' hoor, ya missed!

Fires take hold, walls glow, grow white-hot,
the ceiling burns, then sags, starts to collapse:
ammunition low, the lads keep banging away.

We must charge the barricades, cries Connolly,
Jayz, Muldoon, yeh shoulda stopped in the pub!
Ehh, could we not, like, crawl behind them, sorr?

Hippety-hop, out one of the side doors,
the bullets spark on the flags of Henry Street:
a skip and a jump and it’s into Henry Lane.

Fires all around, bullets at every crossroad,
sandbag redoubts at the end of each street:
The O’Rahilly leaps up and leads a charge

but they’re all knocked over, bowled like skittles,
bleeding, groaning, beside upturned market barrows
among the cabbage leaves and cauliflowers.

It’s then that a bemused Commandant Pearse,
after seven days of ceaseless noise and slaughter,
decides the time has come to pack things in.

But how to get the English to stop firing?
White flags have been no help to the poor civilians,
nor even the sad appeasement of Union Jacks.

The Army over time has gone wild and feral,
enraged by the sting of huge, unexpected losses,
it means to impose revenge on this rebel City.

Let me try, says the nurse, Elizabeth O’Farrell,
and with a great big wave of her Red Cross flag,
she boldly steps out in the street …

And the English hold their fire.
Silence: Christ is on the Cross.

What follows is a tale of the times:
General Lowe, the British Officer Commanding,
cannot accept surrender from a woman!

Three hours later, the whole thing’s over,
and we can see the blurred but famous photo:
Pearse surrenders to General Lowe.

It’s over, so quixotic, so silly,
such a desperate hopeless military fling
in the face of a furious Empire

(who were none too bloody pleased
at this stab in the back, as they saw it,
in the midst of a War they were losing!)

Comes the question of retribution,
and with it comes the turning point,
when England loses Ireland forever.

With their city thrown into flaming ruins,
the populace is enraged, and not with the English,
but with these home-grown damn'd fanatics!

When the prisoners are led to the docks
the whole city turns out to jeer and pelt them:
Look at yez now, yeh bleedin’ bowsies!

England has only to be calm and cool,
to be reassuring, play on the prevailing mood,
but opts instead for savage executions.

First there is silent and stunned disbelief,
whispered murmurings, a stirring of anger,
and then the photographs begin to appear.

Images of the executed leaders proliferate,
first in private homes, then in gathering places,
then in public places throughout the land.

When the troops go angrily tearing them down,
the well-known stubborn streak comes out,
and the mood of the whole country changes.

The lads fought a fair fight, stood up to them,
and were good clean-living boys, the most of them.
No need to go shooting them down like animals!

Christ is Crucified.
Christ is Risen.
Christ Will Live Again.

1916 was the blood sacrifice,
a purity of belief that stayed in our minds
and gave rise to Irish freedom.

When I think of the men of 1916
I wish I had been one among them,
racing down to the barricades

and fighting for Ireland, not actually dying,
(Muldoon muddled through, very glad to hear it)
just dodging the bullets, having the craic

and then boring the pants off people in the pub,
cadging drinks on the strength of a '16 Medal
for ever and ever and ever and ever. Amen.

Slideshow link:

Pearse surrenders to General Lowe at the top of Moore Street. Elizabeth O'Farrell has been airbrushed out of the photo (one can see her feet and the hem of her skirt beside the feet of Pearse).