Saturday 26 May 2018

A poem before dying: the last sonnet of a condemned patriot

Roger Casement: a sonnet before his execution.
Roger Casement: a sonnet before his execution.

Ulick O'Connor

On April 21 one hundred years ago, Sir Roger ­Casement returned to ­Ireland by German submarine, landing on Banna strand, Co Kerry, to warn the leaders behind the Rising that the Germans would not send any men to support it. He has left us a wonderful description of just what Ireland meant to him at that moment.

"The sandhills were full of skylarks rising in the dawn, the first I had heard for years the first sound I heard through the surf was their song, and I waded through the breakers and they kept rising all the time up to the old rath at Currashone, where I stayed and sent the others on, and all around were primroses and wild violets and the singing of the skylarks in the air, and I was back in Ireland again".

Casement was, however, captured before he could contact the leaders of the rebellion in Dublin.

You can see the plaque on the house where Casement, an Irish Protestant, was born in as you pass the junction of Sandycove Road, Dublin.

Casement's career in the British Colonial Service during the reign of Edward VII had made him one of the best known figures in the world after he uncovered the exploitation of natives in Peru and Liberia.

He had no dislike of England. The night before his execution in Pentonville, he wrote to the police inspector who had been with him in his last days: "You showed the best side of an Englishman's character - his native good heart. I would ask you to keep only one thing in that good heart of yours and that is that a man may fight a country and its policy and yet not hate any individual of that country."

The week before he was hanged for treason, Casement wrote a sonnet, which he gave to the priest who heard his last confession, expressing his belief that death would bring him close to God.

Lost youth

Weep not that you no longer feel the tide

High-breasting sun and storm that bore along

Your youth on currents of perpetual song;

For in these mid-sea waters, still and wide,

A sleepless purpose the great Deep doth hide.

Here spring the mighty fountains, pure and strong,

That bear sweet change of breath to city throng,

Who, had the sea no breeze, would soon have died.

So, though the sun shines not as it can do,

Nor have the stars the meaning youth devised

The heavens are nearer, and a light shines through

The brightness neither nor Sun nor Stars sufficed

And on this lonely waste we find it true

Lost youth and love, not lost, are hid with Christ.

Sir Roger Casement 1864-1916

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