To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God
In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,—
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.
— Thomas Kettle
(Born 1880. Died 1916, battle of the Somme. Ref:
I used to have a book of poetry by Thomas Kettle, which I was given as a gift, and it had its pages uncut. I wish I knew where I left it. I must have given it as a present to somebody. I think I know who. It can’t be found now for love nor money, just the exact one. It’s possible it was never properly published. Of course I did cut the pages, and it had this poem and one of the others I remember I used to like was called “Ennui” – it wasn’t mainly war poems.
Thomas Kettle was an interesting character, a leading nationalist who followed John Redmond’s decision for his Irish Volunteers, a nationalist movement, to enlist in British regiments to fight “for the rights of small nations” after Belgium had been invaded. It was on the promise of Home Rule for Ireland, which had been passed by Westminster in 1914, at Gladstone’s third attempt, but then suspended because of the outbreak of war.
Whether it would have followed had not Pearse et al struck in 1916, who knows? Even in the treaty negotiations later an offer of dominion status similar to Canada’s, was spurned. Wouldn’t that have been far better though, even from a nationalist point of view, because afterwards they might have voted away the link anyway, like Australia keeps threatening to do? [The treaty did give the 26 counties dominion status, which continued till the declaration of the republic in 1937. It was perhaps never going to be for the 32, I don’t know.] Oh well. Let’s invite the Queen to Dublin, it’s past time. Let the dead bury the dead. I’m not very sure what it means, but it’s something a little short of letting bygones be bygones, perhaps.
The following, if it’s still there (they come and go on YouTube) is a lament for a son going off to war, “Oh Danny boy, the pipes – the pipes are calling…”
(Diana Krall with the Chieftains)