Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Song Of Swords (1916)

This poem relates to labour-related goings-on in my home town in 1913 which are elaborated upon hereThe poem was written by GK Chesterton, the English polymath who is perhaps best remembered in Ireland these days for the oft-recited lines, "For the great Gaels of Ireland, are the men that God made mad, for all their wars are happy, and all their songs are sad" which feature in his epic poem, the Ballad Of The White Horse. 

Main Street, Swords, c.1900
(Image courtesy of Swords Historial Society via Gaelart)


  "A drove of cattle came into a village called Swords;
  and was stopped by the rioters."—Daily Paper.

  In the place called Swords on the Irish road
  It is told for a new renown
  How we held the horns of the cattle, and how
  We will hold the horns of the devils now
  Ere the lord of hell with the horn on his brow
  Is crowned in Dublin town.

  Light in the East and light in the West,
  And light on the cruel lords,
  On the souls that suddenly all men knew,
  And the green flag flew and the red flag flew,
  And many a wheel of the world stopped, too,
  When the cattle were stopped at Swords.

  Be they sinners or less than saints
  That smite in the street for rage,
  We know where the shame shines bright; we know
  You that they smite at, you their foe,
  Lords of the lawless wage and low,
  This is your lawful wage.

  You pinched a child to a torture price
  That you dared not name in words;
  So black a jest was the silver bit
  That your own speech shook for the shame of it,
  And the coward was plain as a cow they hit
  When the cattle have strayed at Swords.

  The wheel of the torrent of wives went round
  To break men's brotherhood;
  You gave the good Irish blood to grease
  The clubs of your country's enemies;
  you saw the brave man beat to the knees:
  And you saw that it was good.

  The rope of the rich is long and long—
  The longest of hangmen's cords;
  But the kings and crowds are holding their breath,
  In a giant shadow o'er all beneath
  Where God stands holding the scales of Death
  Between the cattle and Swords.

  Haply the lords that hire and lend
  The lowest of all men's lords,
  Who sell their kind like kine at a fair,
  Will find no head of their cattle there;
  But faces of men where cattle were:
  Faces of men—and Swords.