Jenny Farrell

Jenny Farrell

Jenny Farrell was born in Berlin, and works as a lecturer in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. She is the author of Revolutionary Romanticism - Examining the Odes of John Keats, Nuascéalta, 2017, and editor of Children of the Nation, An Anthology of Working People's Poetry from Contemporary Ireland, Culture Matters. 2019.

 

All Quiet on the Western Front
Tuesday, 15 September 2020 09:04

All Quiet on the Western Front

Published in Fiction

 Jenny Farrell introduces the famous anti-war book, as we near the 50th anniversary of Erich Maria Remarque's death. Image by Photofest 

World War I was termed the war that would end all wars, so great was the horror of this new, diabolical stage of industrial annihilation. We know now that without seriously addressing the causes of war – the imperialist greed for new markets and spheres of power – wars will continue, no matter what. However, WWI gave birth to a new genre of anti-war literature.

Mainstream cultural life in the 21st century largely ignores wars, nor has it embraced the anti-war cultural heritage of the 20th century. But anybody who reads the novels and poetry, listens to the music, watches the plays, looks at the paintings or hears the songs of those who lived through the horrors of WWI and WWII, cannot fail to be profoundly shocked and motivated to finally put an end to war. Perhaps that is why they are all but absent from mainstream culture?

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, is arguably the most famous anti-war novel of all time. Published in 1928, the novel was one of the greatest book successes of the first half of the 20th century. The picture it paints, the inhuman reality of war, reflected the experiences of millions of soldiers.

At the heart of the story is a group of young soldiers who are sent from school straight into the battlefield. Their dehumanisation by adapting to industrialised slaughter becomes the turning point in their lives. They ask questions about who is responsible for the war, but have no answers. While Bäumer and his comrades do not believe the official propaganda, which blames the war on foreign powers, they turn their rage on the agents of power closest to them. These include teachers, officers, and armchair strategists at home, including Bäumer’s schoolmaster, Kantorek, who urged students to enlist, as well as the former postman, Himmelstoss, who torments new recruits. While the novel never exposes the imperialist interests which lay behind World War I, it nevertheless condemns the powers that criminally abused Remarque’s generation.

Bäumer’s group is primarily concerned with surviving the war. Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky, a 40-year-old cobbler, becomes a father figure to them. He ferrets out food for them to pilfer, as the army provisions are abysmal. What holds them together is their camaraderie, a humanity they preserve. Ten years after the publication of this novel, this idea of camaraderie was to be exploited by the German fascists for their new war plans.

However, in Remarque’s book, this comradeship has nothing to do with leader and followers in an aggressive militarism. Rather, it is a sense of solidarity among those who need to support each other, even extending to the soldiers in the ‘enemy’ trench. They understand instinctively that the enemy is a victim of the same powers as themselves. In a memorable scene, Bäumer is caught in a shell hole along with the French soldier he has just killed. He says, “Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony – Forgive me, comrade, how could you be my enemy?”

In 1930, the Nazis disrupted screenings of the film adaptation and attacked the audiences. In May 1933, they burned copies of the book and revoked Remarque’s German citizenship in 1938.

Remarque’s next book, The Road Back (1931), follows soldiers from the same company during the 1918 revolutionary uprisings in Germany. It is first and foremost the story of the dissolution of the comradeship of the front. Their attempt to hold on to the idea of comradeship leads to the militarist Freikorps, suicide and eventually even to the murder of workers. Remarque shows that war was not an ‘emergency’ but remains at the centre of imperialist, capitalist society.

Remarque was born in Osnabrück in June 1898 into a Catholic working-class family. When World War I broke out, Remarque was sixteen. Like so many, he fell victim to the jingoist propaganda and joined the Youth Corps, a militaristic cadet organization. Aged eighteen in November 1916, he was conscripted. Shortly after seeing action on the western front, he was wounded, in July 1917 and spent over a year recovering and was not sent back to the front.

Finishing his education after the war, Remarque briefly worked as a teacher, before he began writing for a living. In late 1927, Remarque wrote a first draft of All Quiet on the Western Front. He offered it to the most renowned publisher in the Weimar Republic, Samuel Fischer. Fischer rejected it, claiming that ten years after the war, nobody wanted to read about it anymore. The manuscript then reached the Ullstein publishers and Remarque was asked to revise his text, especially to tone down any anti-war statements.

On 10 November 1928, the Vossische Zeitung, part of the Ullstein group, published the first instalment of All Quiet on the Western Front. Five days later Remarque was sacked from his job with the weekly Sport im Bild. However, the novel’s success exceeded all expectations. Thousands of readers’ letters reached the newspaper evidencing that Remarque’s book hit a nerve with the public: an unvarnished portrayal of the war. It became an immediate bestseller in Germany and internationally. In 1929, it was translated into 26 languages.

Today there are editions in 50 languages, with an estimated circulation worldwide of tens of millions of copies. It is considered the anti-war book of the 20th century, written by a German. The title has become synonymous with the senselessness of war, the senselessness of ordinary people dying in the interests of profit and power.

In May 1933, Remarque had to flee Germany for Switzerland overnight, having been warned by a friend that he was in danger. He left Switzerland for the USA on the eve of World War II, and became a naturalised US citizen in 1947. He wrote his last novel Shadows in Paradise while living at 320 East 57th Street in New York and his apartment building “played a prominent role in his novel”.

In 1943, the Nazis arrested his youngest sister, Elfriede Scholz. She and her husband had stayed in Germany with their two children. She was found guilty of ‘unpatriotic’ views and was beheaded on 16 December 1943. Remarque only discovered what happened to her after the war, and dedicated his 1952 novel The Spark of Life to her. West German publishers omitted the dedication, as Remarque was still considered a traitor by many Germans. Although Remarque’s German citizenship was reinstated after the war, he remained isolated from German cultural life and died in Switzerland 50 years ago, on 25 September 1970.

All Quiet on the Western Front has lost none of its power. It is an outstandingly sensitive depiction of the effect murderous warfare has on the human psyche. We need more books like this.

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Giovanni Boccaccio, writing at a time of plague
Tuesday, 04 August 2020 09:23

Giovanni Boccaccio, writing at a time of plague

Published in Fiction

Jenny Farrell gives the historical background to Boccaccio's work

The Black Plague was the most devastating pandemic ever recorded, resulting in the deaths of between 75-125 million people. It peaked in Europe between 1347 and 1351, having come on Italian merchant ships from Asia via the Silk Road. In fact, the idea of quarantine originates in plague-stricken 14th century Italy, when ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to wait offshore for 40 days before docking. The word quarantine derives from the Italian quaranta giorni, 40 days.

The Italian territories were the cradle of early capitalism. Lombardy and Tuscany were the most advanced cities. Trade and industry developed here in the 13th century, favoured by their trade routes to the Orient. Venice had possessions in Greece, Crete, Cyprus and on the Dalmatian coast. Venetian ships called at European ports, and Venetian ducats became an international currency. With 200,000 inhabitants, the city had a surprisingly large population.

The social order of the Venetian state was determined by its economic interests and the nobility, so its constitution remained aristocratic. This was different in Florence, the second most powerful city in Italy. Florence had a constitution since 1293, which excluded the nobility from the government and transferred its administration exclusively to the patricians. Its council, however, excluded small craftsmen and the common people. At that time, Florence was unique in Europe for a constitution based on bourgeois democratic principles.

This newly developing society brought with great changes in the way people understood the world and their place in it. In the arts, the humanists of this early Renaissance began to rediscover the books and art of the ancients, their focus on this world, the world that the new class, the bourgeoisie, were about to take on. This new focus on the merchants, artisans, patricians brought with it the growing importance of their vernacular. Dante (c. 1265 – 1321), who represents the transition from medieval to Renaissance writing, penned his “Divine Comedy” (1308–21) not in Latin, as might have been expected of a work of this scope at the time, but in Tuscan or Florentine Italian, which helped make that dialect the standard one for Italy. Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374) and Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 1375), following Dante, are firmly established Renaissance writers, both of them also writing in the Florentine dialect.

Writing during the Plague

Boccaccio witnessed these momentous times and gave the world one of its most well-known and widely read books, “The Decameron”. This is a book written and set during the Plague and its introduction and frame story bring it to life. Given the present circumstances, I’ll refrain from delving into the gruesome details of Boccaccio’s introduction, but leave this to the interested reader to do for themselves.

The idea of a great many stories collected within a frame story was not altogether new. Centuries earlier, the Middle East had produced “One Thousand and One Nights” (in Arabic alf layla wa layla), the earliest manuscripts of which date back to the 9th century. These reflect a different kind of society, a feudal society, and yet they do this with as much vividness and cheekiness as Boccaccio would describe his world. The Persian poet Hafez (1315-1390), on the other hand, wrote satirical and love poetry that finds a parallel in Petrarca.

Boccaccio’s frame story goes like this: ten wealthy young people leave Florence in order to escape the plague, moving to a country villa, not without with some servants. They decide that they shall each rule for a day and preside over a set time every afternoon, when each one tells a story on a different theme. What unfolds is a panorama of 14th century Florentine life, with some of the stories told originating in different cultures. With Dante’s Divine Comedy in mind, Boccaccio’s has been called a Human Comedy. Many of the stories satirise clerical lust and greed, the adventures of traveling merchants – and their wives at home, tensions between the new wealthy commercial class and noble families. Quite a few of the stories are explicitly sexual. However, while this doubtlessly contributed to the book’s enormous popularity, it would be wrong to reduce the book to just its sexual theme.

In fact, it became a rich source for writers of world literature. One example is the third story of the first day, a story with origins preceding Boccaccio. The great German Enlightenment poet Lessing discovered the story and based his famous play “Nathan the Wise” on it. This play about the equal value of all religions and cultures was the first play staged in many German theatres after World War II.

The fifth story on the fourth day is the source for Keats’s poem “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil”, a poem about which Shaw said that had Marx written a poem instead of Capital, it would have been this.

All this said, it does not do the work justice either to simply view it as a repository. In fact, the way in which it was most richly emulated was by Geoffrey Chaucer in his “Canterbury Tales”. Chaucer had visited Italy on royal business and was very well read. His marvellous Tales, written between 1387 and 1400, take from Boccaccio the idea of a frame story – the ride from London to Canterbury with thirty pilgrims telling stories to pass the time. Indeed, they are similar in their often bawdy content and satire of the clergy.

The Canterbury PilgrimsPAINTINGSpaintingBlake, William (1757 - 1827, English)  Painting entitled 'The Canterbury Pilgrims', by William BlakePC.89

Canterbury Pilgrims, by William Blake

Yet there is a difference. Chaucer’s pilgrims come from three distinct classes of society (the nobility, the clergy and the common people), and all are more concerned with worldly things than spiritual concerns. Had Chaucer completed this project of thirty pilgrims telling two stories each on the way to Canterbury and two again on the way back, we would now have 120 stories. It was a very ambitious project, one Chaucer could not complete. He finished 24 of them, and others have come down in fragments. Nevertheless, the tales we do have paint a similarly vivid picture of 14th century England as Boccaccio’s do of Florence. And while it took the plague to unite the young Florentines in their country refuge, here it is the pilgrimage that unites these diverse English to be in the same place at the same time.

Writing in the language of the people

Chaucer’s plan differs from Boccaccio’s also in that the prologues to the tales characterise the teller of the story in detail, in particular linguistically. As pointed out, these come from the spectrum of classes in medieval England. For example, the Wife of Bath uses only Germanic adjectives, while the Prioress uses mainly adjectives with a French etymology, reflecting on the one hand a person from the ordinary people, on the other a woman from a noble background.

Like Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio, Chaucer wrote his masterpiece in the vernacular. It is hard to imagine today just what a new departure this represented. For over 300 years, since the Norman invasion of 1066, English had not been spoken by the nobility, the upper classes in England. English, specifically Anglo-Saxon, was kept alive by the common people of England as their vernacular. Given that this was no longer a language of education, reading, etc, the English language developed like wildfire over the historically very short period of 300 years into Middle English, a form of the language that we can still understand, with some effort.

The “Canterbury Tales” is the first great work of English literature, establishing the artistic legitimacy of vernacular Middle English, as opposed to French or Latin. At around the same time, John Wycliffe, a very early religious reformer, translated the Bible into vernacular English (1384). This challenge to Latin as the language of God was considered a revolutionary act at the time, and the Church banned the translation. Access to the Bible in the vernacular was key to the Peasant Revolt of 1381, where one of the leaders, John Ball, asked in a sermon: “When Adam delved and Eva span, who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created equal.”

The vernacular was crucial for social change. Using it meant identifying with the people, it meant standing up to an elitist and exclusive ruling class and empowering the people to understand the injustice of their situation, thus giving them a prospect for change. This use of the language of the people, which the Renaissance brings us, is deeply connected with the struggle for a new era.

The Gadfly: An Irishwoman’s novel about revolutionaries
Monday, 06 July 2020 07:19

The Gadfly: An Irishwoman’s novel about revolutionaries

Published in Fiction

Jenny Farrell remembers Ethel Voynich, who died 60 years ago this month, and who wrote The Gadfly – An Irishwoman’s novel about revolutionaries

Liam Mellows read this novel of revolution while awaiting his execution, along with the other condemned and his comrades. He had been imprisoned by the Irish Free State in the civil war (1922-23), for opposing the Treaty, which gave Ireland Dominion status within the British Empire, rather than establish an independent Irish Republic. Fellow prisoner Peadar O’Donnell writes: 

It is a curious fact, which many of the Mountjoy prisoners must be easily able to recall, that it was around the days that the Gadfly was being widely read in ‘C’ wing; it is a tale of Italian revolution with a ghastly execution scene. (…) MacKelvey … picking up the Gadfly … saying once more: ‘God, I hope they don’t mess up any of our lads this way.’ MacKelvey was to remember the Gadfly next morning.

What was this book so widely read, by Republicans in Ireland and the Labour movement in Britain?

The novel was published in New York in 1897 and a few months later in London, two years after its completion. It achieved cult status in the USSR and China, selling millions of copies. Two film versions were made in the USSR, one silent (1928), the other (1955) with a score by Dmitri Shostakovich. Its author, Irish-born Ethel Voynich, was closely associated with revolutionary circles in London, Berlin and Russia.

Ethel Lilian Boole was born on 11 May 1864 in Co. Cork, the youngest of five daughters of the renowned mathematician Professor George Boole and Mary Boole, who was a psychologist and philosopher. Ethel’s father died shortly after her birth and her mother took the family to London, returning to Ireland regularly during her childhood. It was on one of these visits to Ireland that Ethel first read about Giuseppe Mazzini, leader of the Italian Risorgimento movement.

Aged 18, she went to study music in Berlin for three years (1882–85). Here, she met Russian revolutionaries and when she returned to London, she learnt Russian from the exiled revolutionary Stepniak (Sergei Kravchinski) who had fled Russia after assassinating the chief of the Czarist secret police. Later, she travelled in Russia, staying with Stepniak’s sister-in-law Preskovia Karauloff in St Petersburg for two years (1887–89).

Preskovia was a doctor, whose husband was a political prisoner. Ethel helped Preskovia treat impoverished peasants. She also gave music lessons and associated with families of political prisoners whom she met through Preskovia.

Back in London, Ethel met a Polish political exile, recently escaped from Siberia, who anglicised his name to Wilfred Michael Voynich. Transported to Siberia for participation in the Polish liberation movement against the Czarist regime, he escaped to England in 1890. Ethel and Wilfred worked together with Stepniak, printing revolutionary literature and banned books including translations of Marx’s and Engels’ writing, and smuggling them into Russia.

Along with other revolutionaries, they founded the Russian Free Press Fund, and Ethel herself undertook a clandestine jouney to L’Vov in the Ukraine to organise the smuggling of illegal publications into Russia. Involved in these Russian émigré circles was another Russian exile and agent, Sigmund Rosenblum, alias Sidney Reilly, executed in 1925 for his role in a coup d'etat against Lenin and the USSR. Legend has it that he and Ethel had an affair in Italy.

From these experiences and circle of comrades, Voynich drew the events and characters in the novel. It is set in 1840s Italy at the time of the Risorgimento, its popular rebellion against Austrian domination.

The novel’s main characters belong to Mazzini’s underground party, Young Italy, active in the national liberation movement. A thrilling plot roots the reader’s sympathy with the author’s. It is understandable how this book captures the imagination of readers who sympathise with movements against oppression and domination, with such sentences as:

Several of them belonged to the Mazzinian party and would have been satisfied with nothing less than a democratic Republic and a United Italy.

It is obvious why the Anti-Treaty prisoners, captured during the civil war in Ireland, identified with the characters in the book.

This domination was not merely exercised by a foreign power. Reflecting historical fact, the novel criticises sharply the Catholic Church’s active opposition to the movement for a united Italy, expressed in a father and son conflict that deepens the import: an Italian reluctantly willing to sacrifice his son and the cause of freedom, and Italy’s future, for the sake of religion. The author leaves no doubt regarding her own stance. In fact, the novel’s declared atheism must have contributed to its being banned by the Irish State in 1947.

The spirit of revolution is not limited to members of the Young Italy movement. It has covert support throughout the population, evidenced in many scenes in the novel. Ordinary people help the movement smuggle arms across borders and come to their personal aid – even prison warders back them. In fact in the scene referred to by MacKelvey, the firing squad try to protect their secret hero. So, at the end of the 19th century, we see a new type evolving within the English novel, one whose hero and heroine are revolutionaries and part of a revolutionary liberation movement.

Written at a time of international suffrage movements, the central female character, Gemma Warren, is a woman the movement respects highly. She is inspired not only by Voynich’s own experience but also by other women revolutionaries around the author. Gemma is not merely an emancipated woman; she is also a revolutionary woman, at the centre of the movement. In this way, she goes beyond the literary heroines of the late 19th century and anticipates the proletarian women Gorky would write about:

Those who saw her only at her political work regarded her as a trained and disciplined conspirator, trustworthy, courageous, in every way a valuable member of the party, but somehow lacking in life and individuality. ‘She’s a born conspirator, worth any dozen of us; and she is nothing more,’ Galli had said of her.

Voynich brings not only the revolutionary group into the centre of the plot, but as a necessary part of this group, a new type of woman.

Given Voynich’s internationalism and experience, it is bewildering to find racist sentiments towards South Americans and black people expressed in this book. This racism also affects the portrayal of women of colour, as readers will discover. It seems that Voynich’s novel did not find much resonance in Cuba and other Latin American countries, nor in Africa, all waging heroic liberation struggles. Surprisingly, critics have not drawn attention to this aspect. Instead, if they dislike it, it is either due to its unashamed atheism, so unusual for its time, or for its partisanship for a revolutionary movement.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, Wilfred Voynich became involved in the Society of Friends of Russian Freedom. He ran a rare bookshop in Soho, which he also used for money laundering and smuggling revolutionary and Marxist literature into Russia. Again, Ethel frequently worked as a courier for the organisation.

Ethel began writing full time, authoring three more novels: Jack Raymond (1901), Olive Latham (1904) and An Interrupted Friendship (1910). She also translated some poetry by Shevchenko and Lermontov into English, published in 1911.

She worked with the Quakers as a social worker in London’s East End during the War, and left Britain for good around 1920, when she joined Wilfred in New York. There is no further information about active political work. Wilfred died in 1930. Ethel returned to music, composed musical works including the ‘Epitaph in Ballad Form’, dedicated to the Irish revolutionary Roger Casement, who was hanged in Pentonville Prison, London, on 3 August 1916. She also translated Chopin’s letters into English. She wrote some further novels, although none of them achieved the quality or the fame of The Gadfly.

Soviet literati in 1955 discovered that Ethel was still alive in New York, aged 91. This caused an enormous sensation in the USSR and resulted in the payment of royalties. Ethel continued to live quietly with her companion, Anne Nill, who had once managed Wilfred’s New York book business. They lived together for thirty years in the heart of Manhattan, in an apartment at London Terrace on West 24th Street.

Ethel Voynich died sixty years ago, on July 27th, 1960, aged 96.

The Gael becomes Irish: the long-term consequences of colonisation
Tuesday, 19 May 2020 07:55

The Gael becomes Irish: the long-term consequences of colonisation

Published in Fiction

Jenny Farrell reviews Tomás Mac Síomóin's The Gael Becomes Irish: An Unfinished Odyssey, Nuascéalta, 2020.

“The Gael Becomes Irish”is Tomás Mac Síomóin’s latest publication, and it continues his epic effort to detail the almost unfathomable effect that colonisation has had on the Irish psyche and culture. By doing so, he must be seen as on a par with the ground-breaking work of Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, who revealed the disastrous psychiatric and psychological effects of such colonisation. While Memmi and Fanon wrote their revolutionary studies at a time of liberation struggle from physical occupation, Ngũgĩ and Mac Síomóin trace the minutiae of the long-term consequences of colonisation.

Both highly respected writers of fiction and non-fiction share a particular interest in the linguistic and cultural aftermath of colonial domination. By doing so, they tread on many toes, especially of those who have accommodated themselves with the status quo, deeming it the modern and rational thing to do. These people, in such diverse places as Kenya and Ireland, share an astonishing similarity of wishing to emulate their oppressors.

Mac Síomóin’s “The Gael Becomes Irish” is a companion volume of his 2014 landmark study “The Broken Harp”. In this, the author presented the decline of Gaeilge as one of the most sinister outcomes of colonisation, aided by the Catholic Church. This thorough destruction resulted in a post-colonial trauma, which, according to the author, transmits the colonial condition via DNA structures and has given rise to something akin to Stockholm syndrome. The loss of language and all that this entails  in terms of history, culture, and world-view leads to the adoption instead of the coloniser’s Weltanschauung, in which the victim remains a ‘loser’. Such denial of ancestral language echoes Ngũgĩ’s writings, to whom such rejection seals the accomplishment of the imperial goal. Mac Síomóin also applies Albert Memmi’s thinking to Ireland’s inability to assert itself internationally, as exhibited by Ireland’s catastrophic surrender to EU austerity.

Mac Síomóin links all this to class. Language, culture and identity stand most in the way of those who need to ape the coloniser. In a profit-driven world, language revival “would receive short shrift, being seen as totally ‘surplus to requirements’”. Cultural disinheritance of entire peoples is aided by removing history from school curricula, paralleled by an indifference to natural heritage, destroyed with equal zeal.

Central to Mac Síomóin’s Socratic style of debate is the future of language and literature. Interestingly, while Ngũgĩ started out writing in English, having been educated in the British tradition, and as a matter of profound protest turning to his native Kikuyu, Mac Síomóin’s trajectory has been different. He started out writing in Gaeilge. However, like other Gaelic authors before him, such as Liam O’Flaherty, for a political writer audience matters and to reach a wider audience, indeed to circumvent a certain disdain on the part of the administrators of Gaelic literature for ‘dark’ stories, Mac Síomóin has translated some of his work into English.

In “The Gael Becomes Irish”, Mac Síomóin investigates the rapidly decreasing value of Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht in contemporary Irish life. One of the main obstacles as he sees it is Official Standard Irish, a storehouse of archaic forms, foisted on hapless learners. In this context, he puts forward the need for a simpler modernised Irish, based on current Gaeltacht usage, an approach that has been successfully used to revive other endangered languages such as Hebrew. Indeed English itself lost its genders and many of its inflections in the historically short transition from Anglo-Saxon to Middle English during the time of the Norman conquest, when French was spoken by the upper classes and English by the ordinary people. Absence of grammatical rulebooks boosts the speed of language development. Mac Síomóin gives the example of the Belfast’s tiny Bóthar Seoighe Gaelteacht as an example of success. An appendix details suggestions for a simplified grammar. However, he is not confident about the implementation of such new rules, or indeed the survival of Gaeilge.

Charles Dickens and working-class literature
Monday, 11 May 2020 09:09

Charles Dickens and working-class literature

Published in Fiction

Jenny Farrell discusses Charles Dickens, the first English novelist to put ordinary people at the heart of the story

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens, who was born in 1812, during the Napoleonic Wars. Although his authorial perspective was always rooted in the petty-bourgeois class he was born into, he never forgot how his father was imprisoned for debts, and how the financial circumstances of his family forced him to leave school at the age of 12 and work a 10-hour day in a shoe polish factory. This experience led to his lifelong conviction that no child should ever endure such suffering.

Apart from witnessing poverty and child labour, Dickens also experienced the efforts of the petty bourgeoisie to keep up some kind of facade in the face of financial hardship. Despite his incredible early literary success, Dickens never became complacent – instead his radicalism deepened over the course of his life.

Dickens’ first journalistic jobs were as a parliamentary reporter for radical magazines, and thus moving in radical circles. He was also instrumental in organizing a strike by the reporters of the newspaper “The True Sun” and successfully acted as their spokesperson. At the same time, his love of writing developed. In 1836, he gave up his job as a reporter and started to earn his living by selling his books and writings.

He was born into the rapidly accelerating period of the Industrial Revolution, which powered the transition of British capitalism into its imperialist phase. His first creative period from 1836 to 1842 coincided with the rise and peak of the Chartist movement. His second phase covered the temporary revival of Chartism and the upheaval of 1848/1849, ending with the final triumph of the European reaction in 1850, a triumph that marked his third creative period.

Dickens’ development as a writer, from a basic outlook of optimism to one of pessimism, thus reflects the sensitivities of English radicalism in those same years. His productive literary work falls into the period between the collapse of the English socialist movement under Robert Owen, and its revival under the International Workers’ Federation by Karl Marx in 1864. In France, the painter Courbet developed realism during this epoch, depicting people at work in an unromanticised way. This tells of the spirit of the times, the context in which we must seek the significance of Charles Dickens.

Dickens always regarded himself as one of the common people, sympathising with them as working people and exposing injustice against them. This made him lastingly popular with the ordinary folk. His stance that the poor, and socially excluded groups like children be treated as human beings was in itself a revolutionary demand.

Taking this stance led Dickens to develop a new type of novel. His novels take the focus away from characters in the wealthy classes and towards the lives of ordinary, mostly urban  children, men and women, who grapple with everyday challenges. With his strong sense of individuality, he made these people extraordinarily vivid. He shows his readers the darker side of society in the first great industrialised metropolis in the world. His most interesting and valuable characters are usually people from the lower social classes.

In 1842 Dickens travelled to the US as a committed supporter of American independence, seeking to find the democracy of his dreams. Not only was he disappointed in this, but the existence of slavery and its enthusiastic defence by many he met also outraged him.  After his return, he wrote “American Notes for General Circulation” (1842), which strongly criticized American society and its values, especially slavery and violence, as well as its extreme individualism. In the novel “Martin Chuzzlewit”, published shortly afterwards, he also described the conflict he experienced between expectations and reality in the USA.

Until his visit to the US, Dickens’ perspective was directed exclusively towards southern England, while the main impulse for Chartism came from the industrial Midlands and the North. Not surprisingly, Dickens’ radicalism in his earlier novels was more moderate, and initially represented incidental ills. But as his writing developed, the entire social system that he depicts increasingly proves to be deeply rotten and unreformable.

Great Expectations

By way of example, let us turn briefly to one of Dickens’ later novels, “Great Expectations” (1860-61), in which the title-giving expectation is borne by a boy from the working class, and is attached to the hope for  a wealthy patroness’s  goodwill. The novel describes Pip’s development, and the shock of disillusionment.

In this book there is absolutely no hope that conditions could be put right by the benevolence of the ruling class. Instead, it is the outcast Magwitch, cheated, exploited, and brutalised by the law, who shows gratitude and generosity to Pip. Just as the bourgeoisie owes its wealth to the exploitation of the working classes, so Pip owes his wealth to Magwitch – and Pip is just as ungrateful as the bourgeoisie.

Dickens’ depiction of the two lawyer characters, Jaggers and his employee Wemmick, is also noteworthy. They are ruthless in their working lives, but they lead a completely different, compassionate private life, showing that success in business is only achieved at the expense of one’s own humanity. To underline this metaphorically, Jaggers always washes his hands following a particularly dirty job. Pip also changes during the time of his “expectations”, at the expense of his humanity, as is painfully expressed in his shameful treatment of Joe Gargery and Biddy.

The novel shows the folly of indulging in illusion, and how the lure of great expectations leads to disaster.  Dickens’ original ending underlined Pip’s complete break with his aspirations for social advancement and his insight into the heartlessness of ‘better’ society.  However, Dickens let himself be dissuaded from his planned, mercilessly consistent novel ending. Under pressure from the novelist Bulwer Lytton, he changed his intended ending in favour of a less likely, happier outcome. One is inclined to agree with Shaw who stated that Dickens’ original conclusion was the true happy ending. The logic of the novel contradicts the changed ending. Its most admirable characters are the blacksmith Joe Gargery and the teacher Biddy, Gargery’s second wife. Pip himself, as the main character, begins and ends as a working person.

When Charles Dickens began writing in 1836, the literacy rate in England was under 50 percent. More than any other writer of his time, Dickens must have helped inspire a desire for literacy among the ordinary people, by publishing stories – mostly serialised in magazines – that people really wanted to read because they could relate to the characters.

Dickens has had a great and continuing influence on subsequent writers. For example, in Robert Tressell’s “Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists” not only does Tressell expand on Dickens’ focus by depicting a panorama of working-class people, he is also clearly steeped in the Dickensian tradition in his use of names or motifs, which contain the power of social generalisation. In this sense, Dickens’ increasingly fierce and pointed satires help prepare the ground for working-class literature.

'The life I lived was a woman's life': Eavan Boland, one of Ireland's finest poets
Tuesday, 28 April 2020 09:33

'The life I lived was a woman's life': Eavan Boland, one of Ireland's finest poets

Published in Poetry

Jenny Farrell remembers the life and work of the late Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland died on 27 April 2020. She ranks among Ireland’s finest poets, and was one of the foremost female voices in Irish poetry. She was born in Dublin in 1944, her father a diplomat and her mother a painter. She published the first of many collections, 23 Poems, in 1962 while still a student at Trinity College in Dublin. Her early work tells of her experiences as a young mother, and her growing awareness of the role of women in Irish history. She commented in an interview:

I began to write in an Ireland where the word ‘woman’ and the word ‘poet’ seemed to be in some sort of magnetic opposition to each other. Ireland was a country with a compelling past, and the word ‘woman’ invoked all kinds of images of communality which were thought to be contrary to the life of anarchic individualism invoked by the word ‘poet’….I wanted to put the life I lived into the poem I wrote. And the life I lived was a woman’s life. And I couldn’t accept the possibility that the life of the woman would not, or could not, be named in the poetry of my own nation.

So Eavan Boland wrote about the many subjects that she experienced, as a woman and as a human being – and this included historical and political themes. She worked as a poet, editor and teacher. In later years, Boland was Professor of English and director of the creative writing programme at Stanford University. In 2017, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards.

A favourite poem of mine is one written in 1975, at the height of the Troubles:

The War Horse

This dry night, nothing unusual
About the clip, clop, casual

Iron of his shoes as he stamps death
Like a mint on the innocent coinage of earth.

I lift the window, watch the ambling feather
Of hock and fetlock, loosed from its daily tether

In the tinker camp on the Enniskerry Road,
Pass, his breath hissing, his snuffling head

Down. He is gone. No great harm is done.
Only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn –

Of distant interest like a maimed limb,
Only a rose which now will never climb

The stone of our house, expendable, a mere
Line of defence against him, a volunteer

You might say, only a crocus, its bulbous head
Blown from growth, one of the screamless dead.

But we, we are safe, our unformed fear
Of fierce commitment gone; why should we care

If a rose, a hedge, a crocus are uprooted
Like corpses, remote, crushed, mutilated?

He stumbles on like a rumour of war, huge
Threatening. Neighbours use the subterfuge

Of curtains. He stumbles down our short street
Thankfully passing us. I pause, wait,

Then to breathe relief lean on the sill
And for a second only my blood is still

With atavism. That rose he smashed frays
Ribboned across our hedge, recalling days

Of burned countryside, illicit braid:
A cause ruined before, a world betrayed.

 “The War Horse” is an ominous title, especially when we place ourselves in the time it was written. The Troubles brought daily deaths and terrible suffering. This poem challenges Southern Irish society’s turning of a blind eye across the border. This is one of several poems  where Boland tackles Southern indifference during these years.

 The title suggests power, masculinity and military force. War horses were usually stallions, bred and raised from foalhood to meet the needs of war. In contrast to the unease created by the title, the reader is told there is: “nothing unusual/ About the clip, clop”, something that alerts the reader to there being something “unusual”. Clip, clop enacts the sound of the hooves on the street. Run-on lines throughout poem somehow seem to contradict its rhyming
couplets. They suggest that what is being related is not neat and tidy, but bursts out of this apparent control.

The “casual// Iron of his shoes as he stamps death”, evokes violence, heightened in “coinage” suggesting carnage. The level stress in “stamps death” suggests a horse or a soldier in battle. At the same time, the image is linked to the making of money and the violation of the earth. The rhyming of death and earth emphasises that all is not is well.

The speaker opens her sash window, exposing herself to the experience. The horse comes closer and more into focus. The description moves from the general distant appearance to more specific details: “the ambling feather/ Of hock and fetlock” – the long hair on the lower legs, ‘hock’ referring to the hind leg knee and ‘fetlock’ being the horse’s ankle. The horse, the reader is told, is freed from being tied up in the “tinker camp”. The speaker focuses first on the animal’s legs, then its freedom and his “breath” and “snuffling head”.

The horse passes. And apprehension changes to relief. Yet, the proximity of this war horse has had an effect on the speaker’s space, even in suburbia. Two caesuras slice the line. “No great harm is done” alerts reader to harm! “Only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn”. The choice of the leaf, “laurel”, connotes triumph, glory and peace but also funeral wreaths. The next line initially continues the idea of distance to the horse: “Of distant interest” but as the line progresses, this distance cannot be maintained. War in a remote place suddenly becomes vivid and fighting: “maimed limb” comes as a huge shock. It contradicts “distant interest”.

The reader is forced to reflect. This absence of emotional distance is underlined by the next image, the “rose” that “will never climb/ … our house”: the rose signifies beauty and a life destroyed before its flower and “our house” is more than the immediate home of the speaker.

It comes to represent Ireland. The promise of life and beauty stamped out is given the specific 20th century Irish reference “volunteer”. This one rose, the speaker states, is “expendable, a mere/ Line of defence against him, a volunteer/ You might say”. However, the reader is unconvinced. The emotional weight of the imagery is on the side of this victim who is anything but “expendable”.

This emotion is greatly intensified in the next image: “only a crocus, its bulbous head/ Blown from growth, one of the screamless dead.” Again, the word “only” belies the speaker’s empathy. The “bulbous head” evokes human heads, even skulls, and “Blown from growth” the violent killings of very young people, not even fully grown, by guns and explosives. The image of “screamless dead” seems to suggest the opposite – terrible screams. It adds sound to an already horrifying image.

Developed from the apparently small damage done by the war horse to the speaker’s hedging and garden, there has emerged a build-up of intense feeling for the youth and the dead of Ireland, indeed the world affected by war. Neither the rose nor the crocus will flower. O-sounds dominate, communicating deep sadness.

Following this intensity of feeling, the speaker addresses in similarly ironic tone her fellow dwellers in suburbia: “But we, we are safe, our unformed fear/ Of fierce commitment gone”. Neighbours hiding behind curtains, pretending not to know what is going on, afraid of the commitment and sacrifice made by others involved in conflict and war, and believing that turning away from suffering will somehow protect them from it. The speaker has opened the window and thereby herself to this experience and the grief it brings to her, while the others hide behind “curtains”.

Now the voices of neighbours are brought in: “why should we care// If a rose, a hedge, a crocus are uprooted/ Like corpses, remote, crushed, mutilated?” Boland exposes these people’s indifference by recapturing the terrible violence. This highlights suburbia’s attitude, where nothing matters unless it affects their own gardens. The speaker points out how the horse, by passing her garden does affect it; and this becomes an image for Ireland. The flowers are depicted as a very fragile line of defence against a powerful horse.

The speaker, too, is grateful that war has passed her house, but “atavism” reminds her that war has damaged Ireland: “for a second only my blood is still// With atavism”. The word “still” has two meanings here: still with shock, and still in touch with the past (atavism). What was sensed before now becomes explicitly clear to her: the rose that was crushed is scattered across the hedge and reminds her of the violence past and present in Ireland.

The final images bring us back to the “rose” that “frays/ Ribboned across our hedge”. The past (the Ribbonmen, an agrarian secret society who burned the countryside) and the present come together here surrounding “our house”. Ireland, and indeed the world cannot and must not ignore the devastation war brings. In the long run, nobody can pretend not to know.

Easter Rising 1916: The Wayfarer, by Pádraig Pearse
Friday, 10 April 2020 09:41

Easter Rising 1916: The Wayfarer, by Pádraig Pearse

Published in Poetry

Jenny Farrell presents the final poem in the series of poems written by the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916. It is Pádraig Pearse’s “The Wayfarer”. It is Pearse’s last poem, his last statement, written on the eve of his execution in Kilmainham Gaol.

The Wayfarer 

by Pádraig 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
Sorrowful.

A wayfarer is a wanderer across the countryside, akin to a vagabond. It suggests that Pearse views his short life as a time spent wandering, perhaps restless, an observer of life. The fact that he knows he is facing the end of his life, that the world’s beauty “will pass”, has made him “sad”. Explaining this sadness, he states that this beauty has at times been so overwhelming that “my heart hath shaken with great joy”. This physical image, combined with the emotion it describes, is very moving.

The beauty Pearse recalls that has shaken his heart is that of the Irish countryside and people. He evokes this for readers in very vivid and varied images. There is fantastic movement in the “leaping squirrel in a tree” in the mid-distance, to the close-up of “a red lady-bird upon a stalk”, adding a beautiful red touch to the green vegetation. The view pans out further away as the day progresses to evening and evokes “little rabbits in a field” which is lit “by a slanting sun”. The run-on line seems to extend that gloaming.

Next, the eye moves up to take in the solidity of a “green hill” which is not still, but has clouds trailing over it, “shadows drifted by”. In this image of a “quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown / And soon would reap”, nature and humankind merge in the purposeful activity of “mountainy man”, as do present and future blend in “sown / And soon would reap”. Again, movement and process are enacted in a run-on line. It is a ripening Pearse will not live to see. Perhaps the anticipated reaping on the hilltop “near to the gate of Heaven” allowed for some consolation for Pearse. On a more metaphoric level, this sowing and reaping (in the future) also refers to the Rising and that in future, there will be a reaping.

Next, there is a movement from adult to “children”, again suggesting the future. The image is very vivid and tactile: readers can see the children but also feel the sand under their “bare feet”. The fact that the children are barefoot underlines their connectedness to nature. The highly visual “ebbed sea” contains both the present and the future, as the ripples on the wet sand speak of the tide having gone out and turning again. The ebb and tide suggest the everlasting renewal of life and beauty.

In the middle of the line, the image changes away from the seascape to “the streets / Of little towns in Connacht”. Both the sea and the town images expand by enjambment and suggest continuity and perpetuity. Pearse ends these images from the nature and people of Ireland with “Things young and happy.”

The concluding six lines reflect on this evocation of Ireland as a happy and beautiful place and return to the emotion of the poem’s first line “sad”. Pearse’s “heart” has told him that all this beauty will “pass and change, will die and be no more”. The images of the poem however tell the reader while this is true of individual life, there is continuity that outlives individuals. However, Pearse will not be a part of this natural cycle, he will be “gone upon my way”. Pearse poignantly speaks of himself in the past tense at this point, just before he ends the poem on its shortest line – ending his life prematurely on the solitary word “Sorrowful”. The movement we felt in the run-on lines describing vividly the beauty and people of Ireland, are over, the line is cut short, as Pearse’s life was. He was executed the following day, aged thirty-six.

Easter Rising 1916: Die Taube, by Joseph Plunkett
Friday, 10 April 2020 09:41

Easter Rising 1916: Die Taube, by Joseph Plunkett

Published in Poetry

Jenny Farrell presents the third poem written by the poet-leaders of the Irish Easter Rebellion in 1916. It is Joseph Plunkett’s “Die Taube”, written in 1915.

Engagement with German literature was not unusual for the Irish revolutionary poets and leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. One of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, Thomas MacDonagh, for example, translated Goethe’s famous “Wanderers Nachtlied” into English. It is an indication that the insurgents of 1916 were internationalists in their outlook.

Joseph Plunkett, the youngest of the signatories – all of whom were executed after the Rising by the British military – wrote the sonnet “Die Taube” on 4 March 1915.  This was just days before leaving Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day on a secret mission to Germany. He was to rendezvous with Roger Casement and convey a verbal message from the leadership of the Irish Volunteers. It is therefore a little surprising that Plunkett’s poem suggests he regards Germany at war as abhorrent.

The first clue to reading this poem as a comment on Germany is its title. This is striking, as Plunkett did not speak German. The title draws the reader’s attention to the likelihood that this poem refers to Germany. “Die Taube” means “the dove”, a bird that symbolises love and peace. The fact that Plunkett uses the dove to represent Germany is significant. It immediately suggests something positive. It is pointedly not the German eagle of victory and imperial power.

In addition to this, Plunkett composes a traditional love poem – a Petrarchan sonnet, comprising of the initial octet, rhyming abbaabba, which states the problem, and the concluding sestet rhyming cddcdc, resolving it.

Die Taube

by Joseph Plunkett

To-day when I beheld you all alone
And might have stayed to speak, the watchful love
Leapt up within my heart, — then quick to prove
New strength, the fruit of sorrow you have sown
Sank in my stormy bosom like a stone
Nor dared to rise on flaming plumes above
Passionless winds, till you, O shining dove
Far from the range of wounding words had flown. 

The speaker spots a single dove, addressing it familiarly as “you”. He establishes a personal relationship, “might have stayed to speak”, but “the watchful love” that springs up in the speaker’s heart prevents closeness that he would have welcomed otherwise. The entire poem is defined by this ambiguous feeling for Germany, a mood conveyed from the very beginning.

While the bird represents what he feels is good about Germany and therefore his love for it, the dove has sown “the fruit of sorrow”. Given the date, March 1915, nine months into World War I, this can only refer to the hostilities. However, sorrow does not destroy his love; “watchful” merely constrains it. Sorrow over Germany’s war has produced a tangible “fruit” that oppresses the speaker.

The speaker’s sorrow over Germany’s aggression “sinks” in his chest “like a stone”. In the past, Germany had clearly not burdened his heart. The phrase “stormy bosom” suggests turmoil and underlines the double-edged emotion. On the one hand, the speaker has a positive feeling towards Germany, but “sorrow” has gained the upper hand.

His “watchful love” did not dare to ignore the pillars of fire, the rising columns of smoke from burning cities that this war has brought to Europe. It does not dare to rise into the “passionless winds”, the neutral, uninvolved winds of Ireland, until the dove had flown away from the “wounding words” of war propaganda. In contrast to German literature, German war propaganda speaks in “wounding words”. The word “range” connotes a firing range as well as reach. There is no room for loving Germany while it is at war.

Plunkett’s phrase “O shining dove” underlines once more his affection for Germany, something he never loses sight of in the poem. Peace and anything good, worth loving in Germany, symbolised by the dove, has flown far away from Germany.

The poem’s concluding sestet comments on this predicament. The sestet divides into a quatrain and a concluding couplet:

Far have you flown, and blows of battle cease
To drape the skies in tapestries of blood,
Now sinks within my heart the heaving flood
And Love’s long-fluttering pinions I release,

Bidding them not return till blooms the bud
On olive branch, borne by the bird of peace.

The dove has flown to a place where skies are free from the blood of war - to Ireland, where the speaker resides. The speaker renews the image of a heaviness in his heart: “heaving flood” is a very physical image, as palpable as the fruit of sorrow, but even more forceful. A different kind of sensation is evoked, a repeated welling-up. The speaker lets go of the dove, releasing it. The beautiful, tactile adjective “long-fluttering” wings once more emphasises a long love for Germany.

In keeping with the sonnet form, the final two lines arrive at the conclusion. The dove is not to return until it brings peace. The image is both tangible and vivid: “till blooms the bud / On olive branch”. The line break enacts a momentary delay and builds up to the emphasis on “peace”, the last word of the poem. What the speaker loved about Germany is no longer there. He hopes it will return some day, but it cannot come back unless it brings peace. There can be no love on the basis of war.

This reading of Joseph Plunkett’s “Die Taube” reveals his very ambiguous feelings towards Germany at war, the place he was about to travel to. While using a traditional love poem form ironically, he makes his position abundantly clear that he has no illusions about the militarist nature of Germany at that time. There is no suggestion that fighting in this war is heroic. Plunkett was going on a peace mission of a different kind: one that he hoped would bring Ireland her independence from both King and Kaiser.

die taube

Easter Rising 1916: The Man Upright, by Thomas MacDonagh
Friday, 10 April 2020 09:25

Easter Rising 1916: The Man Upright, by Thomas MacDonagh

Published in Poetry

Jenny Farrell presents the second of the four poems written by leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, the first anti-imperialist uprising in Europe. Here is Thomas MacDonagh’s “The Man Upright”, written in 1911/12, which reveals MacDonagh’s view of the crippling effect of colonialism.

The Man Upright

by Thomas MacDonagh

I once spent an evening in a village
Where the people are all taken up with tillage,
Or do some business in a small way
Among themselves, and all the day
Go crooked, doubled to half their size,
Both working and loafing, with their eyes
Stuck in the ground or in a board, -
For some of them tailor, and some of them hoard
Pence in a till in their little shops,
And some of them shoe-soles - they get the tops
Ready-made from England, and they die cobblers -
All bent up double, a village of hobblers
And slouchers and squatters, whether they straggle
Up and down, or bend to haggle
Over a counter, or bend at a plough,
Or to dig with a spade, or to milk a cow,
Or to shove the goose-iron stiffly along
The stuff on the sleeve-board, or lace the fong
In the boot on the last, or to draw the wax-end
Tight cross-ways - and so to make or to mend
What will soon be worn out by the crooked people.
The only thing straight in the place was the steeple,
I thought at first. I was wrong in that;
For there past the window at which I sat
Watching the crooked little men
Go slouching, and with the gait of a hen
An odd little woman go pattering past,
And the cobbler crouching over his last
In the window opposite, and next door
The tailor squatting inside on the floor -
While I watched them, as I have said before,
And thought that only the steeple was straight,
There came a man of a different gait -
A man who neither slouched nor pattered,
But planted his steps as if each step mattered;
Yet walked down the middle of the street
Not like a policeman on his beat,
But like a man with nothing to do
Except walk straight upright like me and you.

 This is a very easy, entertaining poem with a serious point. It begins almost like a limerick, sets jocular tone, rhymes aabb etc. It is an observation by an outsider: “I once spent an evening in a village”. The people in this village work in farming or small business. All day long, they walk crooked, doubled over “to half their size”. Increasingly we get the impression of colonial subjects in Ireland, who do not have the confidence to stand upright, nor, it seems, have they a vision of where their lives are going: “with their eyes/ Stuck in the ground”. Those who work in small trades receive their materials from England, rather than Ireland, increasing their economic dependence. Cobblers, for example, “get the tops / Ready-made from England”. MacDonagh’s description of the villagers is uncomplimentary to say the least: “a village of hobblers / And slouchers and squatters, whether they straggle / Up and down, or bend to haggle / Over a counter, or bend at a plough,” … He depicts them as people who are utterly crippled in their humanity. No matter what they do for work, they are obliged to bend down. Rather than work expressing their humanity, it acts as their master.

Midway through the poem, we hear that there is something visibly straight in this village of the damned: “The only thing straight in the place was the steeple”. This may well refer to the additional control by the Church over these people. The contrast is very striking to the humbleness and lack of confidence described up to this point. The next line extends this initial surprise into something more significant. It contains the poem’s only caesura and turns the whole flow of the poem around: “I thought at first. I was wrong in that”. The reader’s expectation is heightened as the speaker for the sake of emphasis returns for a moment to the crooked villagers and then exclaims: “There came a man of a different gait - / A man who neither slouched nor pattered”. In fact, this man is said to be “like a man with nothing to do / Except walk straight upright like me and you.” Walking upright is the main purpose of this man’s life - like struggling for an independent socialist republic, it's the obvious and straightforward thing to do.

Following the defeat of the Rising, Thomas MacDonagh was court martialed and executed by firing squad on 3 May 1916, aged just thirty-eight.

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