Saturday, August 17, 2013

496. Wild Geese

On the rain-sodden field at Fontenoy
there is nothing to be seen or remembered
but a misty view of Belgium, formerly France,
just outside the town of Tournai.
And here are no ghosts,
no galloping horses,
no spirits moaning in the air.

I return to the waiting car,
settle into its lingering warmth,
and turn my mind to the evening:
back to Brussels or on to Paris?
There, there are many ghosts,
perhaps no galloping horses,
but lighter spirits in the air.

That year of Bonnie Prince Charlie
when the butcher Duke of Cumberland,
who won the slaughter at Culloden,
was soundly defeated here,
is rarely recalled. So many
wretched, reeling years
have sadly intervened.

And it was my young clansman Liam,
sweet Liam Óg Ó Laighin,
a harpist of darling promise,
who, following his father and grandfather,
grew to military age in France
and happily joined the regiment
whose flag you see below.

1745: Banner of the Irish Brigade
(Invalides Military Museum, Paris)

Young Liam, Liam, ochóne,
you did not survive the battering day
although the hard-fought field was won.
And you were carried to your father’s home
by six young sorrowful comrades,
and sadly laid to rest. The weathered stone
lies broken under a grove of elms.