Saturday 21 April 2018

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor - 100th anniversary of Ledwidge death

Ulick O'Connor

This year is the 100th anniversary of the death of Francis Ledwidge. He was only 26 when he was killed at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

He was, in fact, a firm Nationalist but joined the British army in 1914 when World War I broke out. Back in Ireland on leave from the British army at Easter 1916, Corporal Ledwidge of the 5th battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers had to face the fact that his fellow poet and close friend, Thomas MacDonagh, was about to be shot by firing squad by the very army he was serving with.

It is exaggerating when it is said that Ledwidge was among the best 10 Irish poets. In my view, he is among the best five. A distinctive characteristic of his poetry is that he managed to take the Irish poetic device, internal rhyme, and use it in a way no other writer in the English language has done.

This meant that as well as the normal rhyming of lines, the third or fourth syllable of a line can rhyme with the last one of the previous line. No one has mastered in English so far this system of rhyme used by Ledwidge, who took on a poetic device that had been exploited in Ireland as long as 2,000 years.


A gipsy lit a fire and made a sound

Of moving tins, and from an oblong moon

The river seemed to gush across the ground

To the cracked metre of a marching tune.

And then three syllables of melody

Dropped from a blackbird's flute, and died apart

Far in the dewy dark. No more but three,

Yet sweeter music never touched a heart

Neath the blue domes of London. Flute and reed

Suggesting feelings of the solitude

When will was all the Delphi I would heed,

Lost like a wind within a summer wood

Francis Ledwidge 1891-1917

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