Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916)

Thomas macDonagh was a poet and revolutionary - and my grandfather. He was born in Cloughjordan, the son of a schoolteacher and went on to become a poet, university lecturer and noted critic. His work "Literature in Ireland" continues to be an important resource to students. In 1916 he signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and was executed on May 3rd., 1916.

As a poet, MacDonagh was just beginning to mature at the time of his death. Yeats wrote of him:

He might have won fame in the end
So sensitive his nature seemed
So daring and sweet his thought.

Below are some of his better poems followed by Yeats's masterpiece, Easter 1916 and Francis Ledwidge's lament for him.

John John

I dreamt last night of you, John-John
And thought you called to me
And when I woke this morning John
Yourself I hoped to see
But I was all alone John-John
Though still I heard your call
I put my boots and bonnet on
And took my Sunday shawl
And went full sure to find you John
to Nenagh fair.

The fair was just the same as then
Five years ago today
When first you left the thimble men
and came with me away
For there again were thimble men
and shooting galleries
And card trick men and maggie men
of all sorts and degrees
But not a sight of you John John
was anywhere.

I turned my face to home again
and called myself a fool
To think you'd leave the thimble men
And live again by rule
And go to mass and keep the fast
And till the little patch
My wish to have you home was passed
Before I raised the latch
And pushed the door and saw you John,
sitting down there.

How cool you came in here bedad
As if you owned the place
But rest yourself there now me lad
Tis good to see your face
My dream is out and now by it
I think I know my mind
At six o'clock this house you'll quit
And leave no grief behind
But until six o'clock John John
my bit you''ll share

The neighbors' shame of me began
when 1st I took you in
To wed and keep a tinker man
They thought a kind of sin
But this three year since your gone
Tis pity me they do
And that I'd rather have John-John
Than that they'd pity you.
Pity for me and you John-Jon
I could not bear.

Oh you're my husband right enough
But what's the good of that?
You know you never were the stuff
To be the cottage cat,
To watch the fire and hear me lock
The door and put out Shep -
But there now, it is six o'clock
And time for you to step.
God rest and keep you far, John-John
and that's my prayer.

The Yellow Bittern
(From the Irish of Cathal Buidhe Mac GiolIa. Ghunna)

The yellow bittern that never broke out
In a drinking bout, might as well have drunk;
His bones are thrown on a naked stone
Where he lived alone like a hermit monk.
O yellow bittern! I pity your lot,
Though they say that a sot like myself is curst
I was sober a while, but I'll drink and be wise
For I fear I should die in the end of thirst.

It's not for the common birds that I'd mourn
The black-bird, the corn-crake, or the crane,
But for the bittern that's shy and apart
And drinks in the marsh from the lone bog-drain.
Oh, if I had known you were near your death,
While my hreath held out I'd have run to you
Till a splash from the Lake of the Son of the Bird
Your soul would have stirred and waked anew.

My darling told me to drink no more
Or my life would be o'er in a little short while
But I told her 'tis drink gives me health and strength
And will lengthen my road by many a mile.
You see how the bird of the long smooth neck
Could get his death from the thirst at last
Come, son of my soul, and drain your cup,
You'll get no sup when your life is past.

In a wintering island by Constantine's halls
A bittern calls from a wineless place,
And tells me that hither he cannot come
Till the summer is here and the sunny days.
When he crosses the stream there and wings o'er the sea
Then a fear comes to me he may fail in his flight
Well, the milk and the ale are drunk every drop,
And a dram won't stop our thirst this night.

The Night Hunt

In the morning, in the dark,
When the stars begin to blunt,
By the wall of Barna Park
Dogs I heard and saw them hunt.
All the parish dogs were there,
All the dogs for miles around
Teeming up behind a hare
In the dark, without a sound.

How I heard I scarce can tell
'Twas a patter in the grass
And I did not see them well
Come across the dark and pass;
Yet I saw them and I knew
Spearman's dog and Spellman's dog
And, beside my own dog too,
Leamy's from the Island Bog.

In the morning when the sun
Burnished all the green to gorse,
I went out to take a run
Round the bog upon my horse;
And my dog that had been sleeping
In the heat beside the door
Left his yawning and went leaping
On a hundred yards before.

Through the village street we passed
Not a dog there raised a snout
Through the street and out at last
On the white bog road and out
Over Barna Park full pace,
Over to the Silver Stream,
Horse and dog in happy race,
Rider between thought and dream.

By the stream at Leamy's house,
Lay a dog - my pace I curbed
But our coming did not rouse
Him from drowsing undisturbed;
And my dog, as unaware
Of the other, dropped beside
And went running by me there
With my horse's slackened stride.

Yet by something, by a twitch
Of the sleeper's eye, a look
From the runner, something which
Little chords of feeling shook,
I was conscious that a thought
Shuddered through the silent deep
Of a secret I had caught
Something I had known in sleep.

Transcribed from memory - please forgive any errors.

Easter 1916

William Butler Yeats

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk
Among grey, eighteenth century, houses
And passed with a nod of the head
Or polite, meaningless, words
Or lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a jibe
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.

This woman's days were spent
In ignorant goodwill
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 winged 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 known
A drunken, vainglorious lout
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near to my heart
Yet I number him in the song
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 a stream
Changes minute by minute
A horsehoof slides on the brim
And the horse plashes within it
The long legged moorhens dive
And hens to moorcocks call
Minute by minute the change
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart
Oh 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.
And what is it but nightfall?
No - no not night but death
And was it needless death after all?
For England may keep her 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 ‘til they died?
I write it out in a verse,
MacDonagh and McBride
And Conolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be
Wherever green is worn
Are changed, changed utterly.
A terrible beauty is born.

Thomas MacDonagh

by Francis Ledwidge

He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky where he is lain
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows
Thru’ slanted snows and fanfare shrill
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.

But when the dark cow leaves the moor
And pastures poor with greedy weeds
Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn
Lifting her head in pleasant meads.

The dark cow is an allegorical name for Ireland.