Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter 1916

Easter 1916 is the great, troubling poem about uprisings by William Butler Yeats.  He wrote if after an uprising by Irish nationalists against British rule failed--on Easter Monday April 24, 1916---and all but the one woman of the group who failed were executed.  Great poems re-arise.  This Easter poem comes again to mind this Easter 2011, when questions of nationalism and power are being sorted out in arenas of great human tragedy and violence, as ever, terribly, but newly, especially in the Middle East.

How poignant to think of the woman, here in stanza two as a young woman, before turmoil, destruction.  I share Yeats's ambivalence to this kind of Easter.  A terrible beauty is born.  Here is a link to the entire poem.   I will print here the final stanza:

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
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was is 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.

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