In Wounded Fields (3)

This was number three out of the five poems in my 'In Wounded Fields' compendium.

Poets come from everywhere in the human spectrum, without links to race, colour, class or creed. As this one indicates, Francis Ledwidge could hardly have sprung from less promising roots. Most of his boyhood would have been spent amongst an equally unschooled, barely literate if not illiterate peer group. And yet ... Ireland with its Celtic ancestry has always produced great distillers of words into poems and through poems into music. Education can bring forth such quality but cannot implant it.

It is said that Shakespeare and most of his contempories believed they, as all Mankind, were and had been for generations on the downwards slope. Humanity, they believed, had reached its peak long, long before, with the Greeks and the Romans. My own belief? If there really was such an apogee of our kind, perhaps Utopia happened in these islands, especially in Ireland at around the fourth century AD. Take a long look at the Book of Kells. And ask yourself from whence sprang that old chivalric code, small traces of which we carry to this day, as hard to believe as that may sometimes be.

To Francis Ledwidge August 1887 - July 1917

Did you still, “Hear roads calling and the hills
And the rivers, wondering where I am,”

At Hellfire Corner, sitting drinking tea
As arced unseen that deadly mortar bomb
Which was to end an Irish poet’s dream?

A long way sure, from Owen, Brooke, and those
Smart young men in smarter khaki clothes
Who never mended any metalled road
Yet were your brothers of the silken verse
And knew as well as you the smell of death.
I wonder what became of all your clan
(Nine children to evicted farming man:)
Perhaps your father was a dreamer too,
Dreaming, “Songs of the fields,” just as you,
His Celtic longing more than mind can bear.
But what genetic streak of ancient Gael
Gave will to write and sensitivity
To know; “And greater than a poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name;”
tell me,
You school-less twelve year old adrift, tell me,
Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge, fighting man,
Sometime Slane Corps of Irish Nationalists
Now Inniskilling Fusiliers, enrolled
To kill the foe of She who’s not your friend
And fight for her through hell’s Gallipoli.
And how, I wondered, could a poet write
In winter trenches on the brutal Somme
Of lilting “Fairy Music” (“Ceol Sidhe”)?
Was still the barred cuckoo so real to you,
In Crocknahara meadows by the Boyne?

Always you yearned for mother, Ireland,
“The fields that call across the world to me,”
And now near where the spires of Ypers stand
You dream your dreams, denied reality,
Beneath your wild flowers ‘til the end.

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