Friday 20 April 2018

Poem that JFK's mother kept so close to her heart

Patrick Pearse
Patrick Pearse

Ulick O'Connor

It was this month 100 years ago that Patrick Pearse and James Connolly agreed upon a date, three months in advance, on which they would rise up against British rule in Ireland. I think one of best ways one can recognise what the Rising is actually about is to have a look at the splendid poem that Pearse wrote for his mother some hours before he and his brother were executed.

He portrays her as if he sees her after his death, replying to those who had killed her sons. Here is the poem that he has written which catches exquisitely the voice of a mother horrified at thought of losing her two sons. It was overpowering.

I was lucky enough to meet American President John F Kennedy's mother, Mrs Rose Kennedy, sometime after his death. I was in America for a while and I took the opportunity of reciting this poem to her. She asked me would I write it down for her. Tears came into her eyes as I handed her the slip of paper I had written it on.

I heard later that she had hung the poem over her bed between the two photographs of her murdered sons, Jack and Bobby.

The Mother

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge

My two strong sons that I have seen go out

To break their strength and die, they and a few,

In bloody protest for a glorious thing,

They shall be spoken of among their people,

The generations shall remember them,

And call them blessed;

But I will speak their names to my own heart

In the long nights;

The little names that were familiar once

Round my dead hearth.

Lord, thou art hard on mothers:

We suffer in their coming and their going;

And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary

Of the long sorrow. And yet I have my joy:

My sons were faithful, and they fought.

Patrick Pearse 1879-1916

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