A rare time for death in Ireland;
and in the battle’s prologue
many a common man, woman, and child
had said goodbye to work and love and play;
and many more
in an hour or so
would receive a terse message
that life no longer needed them.
There they are,
lying so quiet:
a child surprised in the doorway;
an old man stretched in the street;
a young man near a lamp-post
which he had clutched
when the bullet struck him,
and down which he had slid when he died,
his curiously white face
containing wide eyes staring upwards,
as if asking the sky why this had happened,
a stiff arm still half-encircling the lamp standard;
a young lassie in holiday attire,
lying on her face,
maybe hurrying home
when she heard the uproar,
but going too slow,
for on the brilliant white blouse
a purple patch of death
was spreading over the middle of the back;
an old woman on the floor of her tenement room,
her blood seeping through the ceiling below;
all of the goodly company
of the dead who died for Ireland.
Jesu, have pity!
Quiet, comrades, quiet.
It was necessary that you should die for Ireland too.
You didn’t want to die.
I know, I know.
You signed no proclamation;
you invaded no building;
you pulled no trigger;
I know, I know.
But Ireland needed you all the same.
Many will die like that
before Ireland can go free.
They must put up with it.
You will be unknown forever;
you died without a word of praise;
you will be buried without even a shadowy ceremony;
no bugle will call your name;
no gunshot will let loose
brave echoes over your grave;
you will not be numbered among the accepted slain.
But listen, comrades, listen:
Whitman will be there to meet you;
he will marshall you into the march-past
with the greater dead;
on the cornet he will give you a shrill salute.
Listen: there it goes!
from Drums Under the Window
(arranged and lineated by Patrick J. Hill)