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The Sunday Poem: From Easter, 1916


William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

With his usual perspicacity Yeats asks in Easter, 1916, written in the September of that year, 'Was it needless death after all?/ For England may keep faith / For all that is done and said.' It is the central question and has been discussed ever since, most notably perhaps in Ronan Fanning's insightful enquiry into the revolutionary period, Fatal Path in which he comes to the conclusion that an armed Ulster prepared to resist Home Rome had in 1914 altered everything.

One wonders. Was there not an element of smoke and mirrors about it all?

'We tried everything' Lloyd George would tell the Treaty delegates. 'We tried to use an instrument' - the British army - 'and it broke in our hands.'

He meant the 'Curragh Mutiny' but in fact not a shot was fired then on either side. There was not even an armed confrontation.

Inflated terms and Irish Gigantism had a lot to do with it.

From Easter 1916

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven's part, our part

To murmur name upon name,

As a mother names her child

When sleep at last has come

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On limbs that had run wild.

What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death;

Was it needless death after all?

For England may keep faith

For all that is done and said.

We know their dream; enough

To know they dreamed and are dead;

And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?

I write it out in a verse -

MacDonagh and MacBride

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

WB Yeats

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