Monday 9 December 2019

Rising Poems: 'Wishes For My Son, Born On St Cecilia's Day, 1912' by Thomas MacDonagh

'Wishes For My Son, Born On St Cecilia's Day, 1912'

Now, my son, is life for you,
And I wish you joy of it,-
Joy of power in all you do,
Deeper passion, better wit
Than I had who had enough,
Quicker life and length thereof,
More of every gift but love.

Love I have beyond all men,
Love that now you share with me-
What have I to wish you then
But that you be good and free,
And that God to you may give
Grace in stronger days to live?

For I wish you more than I
Ever knew of glorious deed,
Though no rapture passed me by
That an eager heart could heed,
Though I followed heights and sought
Things the sequel never brought.

Wild and perilous holy things
Flaming with a martyr's blood,
And the joy that laughs and sings
Where a foe must be withstood,
Joy of headlong happy chance
Leading on the battle dance.

But I found no enemy,
No man in a world of wrong,
That Christ's word of charity
Did not render clean and strong-
Who was I to judge my kind,
Blindest groper of the blind?

God to you may give the sight
And the clear, undoubting strength
Wars to knit for single right,
Freedom's war to knit at length,
And to win through wrath and strife,
To the sequel of my life.

But for you, so small and young,
Born on Saint Cecilia's Day,
I in more harmonious song
Now for nearer joys should pray-
Simpler joys: the natural growth
Of your childhood and your youth,
Courage, innocence, and truth:

These for you, so small and young,
In your hand and heart and tongue.

An Assessment of 'Wishes For My Son, Born On St Cecilia's Day, 1912' by Dr Lucy Collins

To the rebels of 1916, the future of Ireland was closely linked to the next generation of Irish men and women, who would keep revolutionary ideals alive. In this poem, Thomas MacDonagh commemorates the birth of his son by meditating on his own hopes for the future. This vision is dominated by love, which both binds father and child together and shapes how human meaning is created here.

MacDonagh wishes that his son be 'good and free', linking morality with personal liberty. Here, as elsewhere in his work, he reveals the tension between individual and collective viewpoints - a tension which fundamentally shapes how freedom itself can be understood. Idealism lies at the heart of this poem, but it is a different kind of idealism to that contemplated by Pearse or Plunkett.

Though MacDonagh invokes the 'martyr's blood', he recognises that violent enmity is at odds with religious feeling. He chooses instead to highlight the role of redemption; the long and patient quest for lasting freedom. The poem moves from larger, abstract aims, to the simplest of wishes for the child: that he will grow naturally in 'courage, innocence and truth'.

Dr Lucy Collins is a lecturer in English at University College Dublin (UCD). She is the curator of 'Reading 1916', a forthcoming exhibition at UCD Special Collections.

Irish Independent

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