Analysis: How 1916-Inspired Poetry Can Inspire Us All

Patrick Pearse, Thomas McDonagh and Joseph Plunkett were leaders of the 1916 Rising. Although they were leaders, they expressed their feelings and thoughts on the Rising through the art of poetry.


Thomas McDonagh/The Poetical Works Of Thomas McDonagh

Leanne Salmon, poetry lover, Journalism student and Arts sub-editor, takes a look at such poetry inspired by the Rising and gives her analysis.

The Mother

By Patrick Pearse

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge

My two strong sons that I have seen go out

To break their strength and die, they and a few,

In bloody protest for a glorious thing,

They shall be spoken of among their people,

The generations shall remember them,

And call them blessed;

But I will speak their names to my own heart

In the long nights;

The little names that were familiar once

Round my dead hearth.

Lord, thou art hard on mothers:

We suffer in their coming and their going;

And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary

Of the long sorrow – And yet I have my joy:

My sons were faithful, and they fought.

The first of two poems written by Pearse during the Rising, this poem shows an accurate representation of the feelings a mother would experience while knowing her sons are going to war. The first thing that can be pointed out here is that this poem is in the voice of Patrick Pearse’s mother. Pearse is almost imagining his mother’s views on the political upheaval that was occurring at the time. He imagines the contrast of sorrow and pride his mother must feel; sorrow due to the fact that her sons will, “break their strength and die” but also pride due to the fact that: “They shall be spoken of among their people”.

In simple language, the reader feels a sense of the pain that a mother would feel while knowing her sons are fighting for independence for their country, yet knowing there is a huge possibility of death occurring. Although Pearse’s mother is experiencing such pain, Pearse ends the poem with the pride that he knows his mother would feel; pride due to the fact that her sons were “faithful” to their country. One can get a sense of the feelings experienced by other mothers whose sons fought in the 1916 Rising.

The Wayfarer

By Patrick Pearse

The beauty of the world hath made me sad,

This beauty that will pass;

Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy

To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,

Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,

Or little rabbits in a field at evening,

Lit by a slanting sun,

Or some green hill where shadows drifted by

Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown

And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;

Or children with bare feet upon the sands

Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets

Of little towns in Connacht,

Things young and happy.

And then my heart hath told me:

These will pass,

Will pass and change, will die and be no more,

Things bright and green, things young and happy;

And I have gone upon my way


The second poem written by Pearse, this poem explores the feelings of sorrow and joy, not due entirely to the Rising but also due to the fact that Pearse knows his life is ebbing away. It is a nostalgic poem, exploring the past, while Pearse also knows that there is no future for him. In the poem, Pearse acknowledges the joy he feels with life as he uses nature images as a metaphor to create an air of peace that he feels: “To see a leaping squirrel in a tree, Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk”.

He then points out that although there is joy in the world, he will not see it again: “These will pass, Will pass and change, will die and be no more.” It can be interpreted that this poem was written just before Pearse’s execution, hence his desire to express nostalgia in the final days before his death. In his own words, he knew it would not be long until he was, “near to the gate of Heaven”.

‘Wishes For My Son, Born On St Cecilia’s Day, 1912’

By Thomas McDonagh

Now, my son, is life for you,

And I wish you joy of it,-

Joy of power in all you do,

Deeper passion, better wit

Than I had who had enough,

Quicker life and length thereof,

More of every gift but love.

Love I have beyond all men,

Love that now you share with me-

What have I to wish you then

But that you be good and free,

And that God to you may give

Grace in stronger days to live?

For I wish you more than I

Ever knew of glorious deed,

Though no rapture passed me by

That an eager heart could heed,

Though I followed heights and sought

Things the sequel never brought.

Wild and perilous holy things

Flaming with a martyr’s blood,

And the joy that laughs and sings

Where a foe must be withstood,

Joy of headlong happy chance

Leading on the battle dance.

But I found no enemy,

No man in a world of wrong,

That Christ’s word of charity

Did not render clean and strong-

Who was I to judge my kind,

Blindest groper of the blind?

God to you may give the sight

And the clear, undoubting strength

Wars to knit for single right,

Freedom’s war to knit at length,

And to win through wrath and strife,

To the sequel of my life.

But for you, so small and young,

Born on Saint Cecilia’s Day,

I in more harmonious song

Now for nearer joys should pray-

Simpler joys: the natural growth

Of your childhood and your youth,

Courage, innocence, and truth:

These for you, so small and young,

In your hand and heart and tongue.

This poem by McDonagh uses simple language to show us the bond of love between father and son at the time of the Rising. At the time, it was expected that the next generation of children would keep the ideas of the Rising alive. McDonagh shows his caring and loving nature towards his son throughout the poem.

He wants his son to have, “joy of power in all you do” but he also wants him to learn from his own mistakes as he says that he wants him to have “better wit than I who had enough”. He wants his child to be “good and free”, while again referencing to the fact that he doesn’t want the child to have to go through what he had to in the Rising: “For I wish you more than I Ever knew of glorious deed”.

McDonagh’s paternal instincts of wanting his son to be safe and loved are evident in the poem. This poem is one of the most beautiful poems inspired by the Rising as it is looking towards the future and hopes that the next generation will not have to experience the pain and sorrow that the leaders felt. It is nostalgic, yet forethought at the same time.

I See His Blood  Upon The Rose

By Joseph Plunkett

I see his blood upon the rose

And in the stars the glory of his eyes,

His body gleams amid eternal snows,

His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;

The thunder and the singing of the birds

Are but his voice-and carven by his power

Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,

His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,

His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,

His cross is every tree.

This poem by Plunkett shows his commitment to his Christian faith during the Rising, while also showing that his idea of personal sacrifice is needed. Vivid imagery is used throughout the poem to make us think about Jesus’ sacrifice for us: “His body gleams amid eternal snows, His tears fall from his eyes…. All pathways by his feet are worn….His crown of thorns is twined by every thorn”. Plunkett is reflecting on what Jesus has done for us, while also comparing it to the fact that he, himself, needs to die in order to end the political strife occurring.

One can argue that Plunkett’s use of Jesus dying on the cross is his own way of making sense of the fact that he needs to die to help the next generation. This poem could have possibly been written before Plunkett’s death; when he was holding on to his faith to help him cope with the thought of his impending death. The idea of martyrdom and pride is evident in the poem.

By Leanne Salmon

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