Thursday 14 November 2019

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Songs from the field

Francis Ledwidge
Francis Ledwidge

The last day of this month is the 100th anniversary of the death of one of our greatest poets, Francis Ledwidge.

He took part in World War I and was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele as a corporal in the British army. It is clear that his political beliefs were national, and he was a close friend of Thomas MacDonagh, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation.

Ledwidge's poem in praise of MacDonagh is high up among the finest written about the Rising. I think we should have another one to show just how powerful a poet Ledwidge really was. Here is an excerpt from 'June'. I would not like to cast judgment on any four lines which exceed those of Ledwidge's poem set out here.

from JUNE

The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,

And bobbing poppies flare like Elmo's light*,

While siren-like the pollen-stained bees

Drone in the clover depths. And up the height

The cuckoo's voice is hoarse and broke with joy.

And on the lowland crops that crows make raid,

Nor fear the clappers of the farmer's boy,

Who sleeps like drunken Noah, in the shade.

And loop this red rose in that hazel ring

That snares your little ear, for June is short

And we must joy in it and dance and sing,

And from her bounty draw her rosy worth.

Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,

The wind wheel north to gather in the snow,

Even the roses spilt on youth's red mouth

Will soon blow down the road all roses go.

*Elmo was a patron saint of sailors

Francis Ledwidge 1887-1917

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