Poet’s Rebellion

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 11.27.48 AMPoets often kid one another that their work is saving the world, but the role that poets played in Ireland’s independence 101 years ago today is no joke. The Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin, Ireland was also known as the Poet’s Rebellion because it was led by six patriotic poets and other men of letters including actors and teachers. The group, backed by Irish nationalists and socialists marched in Dublin and seized the General Post Office where they read the “Proclamation of Independence” which read in part:

“In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. … The Irish Republic is entitled to … the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman … cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

The rebellion led to the execution of fifteen of the protestors but was the beginning of a civil war that created the Free Irish State. William Butler Yates memorialized the movement in his poem “Easter 1916.”

Easter, 1916

William Butler Yates
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.
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 it 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.




About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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4 Responses to Poet’s Rebellion

  1. I just love tumbling into a poetry post of yours that embraces subjects new to me. I read the ‘The Proclamation for Independence’ three times, and the Yeats poem was certainly well chosen. Thank you, Jim.


    • Jim Brennan says:

      The Poet’s Rebellion is a fascinating story, and Ireland is so rich in poetic tradition, I suppose from centuries of strife and living close to the land. I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting, JoHanna.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dennis McCrossen says:

    Jim, thanks again. Last week it was Heaney and Beckett. Today it was WBY. A culture that reveres its poets should be revered.

    Sent from my iPhone



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