Poetry: Fine oratory for a man who really didn't earn it...
There was great goings on two weeks ago about the oration of Pádraic Pearse's address over the grave of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin Cemetery. Pearse's actual speech is an oratorical masterpiece. It must have been doubly difficult for him to speak as he did, as the man of whom he was talking about was seemingly quite unworthy of the massive tribute paid to him. Michael Davitt had this to say about O'Donovan Rossa in a letter in 1886 to my great grandfather Matt Harris (MP for East Galway), a former Fenian who had been out in the 1848 and 1867 Risings.
"I have had to put up with that blatant ass Rossa, who is doing damage here. He has not the courage to set fire to a British haystack."
Pearse would have been aware of O'Donovan Rossa's inadequacies but he recognised that now was the time to create a speech which could contribute to the uprising planned for the following Easter.
The speech that Pearse would deliver was a superb statement of the national demand for self-rule. At times, like all good oratory, it had its own rhythm and hovered on the edge of poetry.
"They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! - they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace".
Pearse was 37 when he went in front of the firing squad. Here is the last poem he wrote in his cell as he awaited the squad's arrival.
The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way
Pádraic Pearse 1879-1916