|Tom Kettle's Poems & Parodies|
For a while I had been searching for this edition of the book. It was published in 1916 in the months just after Tom was killed on the Somme, and so there is an introduction commemorating his death. As well, within its pages is the dedicatory poem which he wrote for his wife Mary, along with the very last poem Tom wrote and dedicated to their little girl, Elizabeth Dorothy, a poem entitled To my daughter Betty, the gift of God. There are a few of his early poems included in the book, as well as some political and war poems.
Surely there would have been a kind of magic at work if I had found the book of poems in Paris. Tom Kettle loved the city of Paris, and when he was killed in the advance on Ginchy, 9 September 1916, Tom was less than one hundred miles north of the great metropolis. If he had survived the war I have to believe he would have travelled to Paris again, perhaps with his beloved Mary and their precious girl Betty. I can imagine the three of them on a breezy Spring afternoon, strolling hand in hand along the River Seine or through the shady tree-lined paths of the Jardin des Tuileries.
When we travelled up into northern France, just past the village of Guillemont, and the fields of Ginchy, the words of Tom's poems played on my mind. From the east storm clouds were approaching, a deep growling emanating from within them like the sound of bombardment, a mnemonic powering memories of a past, distant and cruel.
So here, while the mad guns curse
And tired men sigh with mud for couch
Know that we fools, now with the foolish
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.
All along the roads on which we travelled were small patches of beautiful vermilion-coloured poppies, their faces turned up to the expanse of chalky grey skies. Then from the roadway I saw the most extraordinary sight, and we stopped so I could photograph it.
There, a long line of poppies cleaves a farmer's field in two. This stunning natural pathway brought to mind the thousands of young soldiers, just like Tom, who had marched through these fields of northern France and many others across Europe. At the bidding of the enemy's weapons, they fell upon those fields and drew their last breath there. Now it is as though each one of these poppies sways in the breeze in memory of each one of those souls.
As the sun died in blood, and hill and sea
Grew to an altar, red with mystery,
One came who knew me
(it may be over-much)
Seeking the cynical and staining touch,
But I, against the great sun's burial
Thought only of bayonet-flash and bugle-call...
We paused for a moment and stood in silent gratitude thinking about the history those poppies called forth to us. Stepping back into the car we continued along the roadway toward Pozieres, Thiepval, Lille, and on into Belgium. Dozens of military graveyards dot the countryside keeping the history alive for us, and Tom's words were ever present, whispering in my ear of the ultimate sacrifice made by so many Irish for the freedom of Europe.
Count me the price in blood that we have
Spendthrifts of blood from our cradle,
Name me the sinister fields where the
Wild Geese wandered,
Lille and Cremona and ...
Thomas Michael Kettle is commemorated in France on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing (Pier and Face 16C).
The quotations included are from poems which appear in
Kettle, T.M., Poems and Parodies.
The Talbot Press, Dublin, 1916.
These poems are:
1. To my daughter Betty, the gift of God
2. On Leaving Ireland
3. A Nation's Freedom
4. Tom Kettle is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing because he has no known grave. Serving as a temporary Lieutenant with the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Tom was killed 9 Sept. 1916, in the advance on Ginchy. Tom's body was interred by the Welsh Guards when they relieved the RDF some 24 hours after the RDF took the ground that was Ginchy; however, subsequent shelling destroyed the gravesite and it was never recovered. (NAUK, WO/339 and Kettle papers UCD, LA34)
5. The words of Tom's last poem to his daughter are carved in stone at Island of Ireland Peace Park in Belgium. He is also commemorated on a plaque in the Four Courts, Dublin, and on the WW1 plaque at St. Mary's Church, Haddington Road, Dublin, incidentally the only World War one commemoration to be found in a Catholic church in the Republic.
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