First cuckoo, Irish poet

27th April and we hear our first cuckoo. It really is uncanny. Every year within a few days (maximum four) they arrive to bell out their duosyllabic signatures from the sparse stands of trees hereabouts, having flown, we are told, all the way from West Africa. The cuckoo always minds me of Francis Ledwidge, that Irish Nationalist, ultra working class poet ...
Was still the barred cuckoo so real to you,
In Crocknahara meadows by the Boyne?
In 1005 I wrote a series of poems addressed to the poets of world war one. The collection was (is) called 'On Wounded Fields'. This is the one to Francis Ledwidge ... the italicised words are Ledwidge's
 
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 ‘till the end. 

Bryan Islip, May 1995

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