Today marks Easter Sunday, a day when people from all over the world come together to celebrate the resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, from the dead. During this holiday, people take time off from work to participate in activities, including Easter egg decoration, the subsequent Easter egg hunt, and, of course, lots and lots of food. In particular, the Easter egg is not only an arts and crafts item for fun, but also carries a long symbolic tradition of burial and then rebirth. Specifically, the egg symbolizes the empty tomb of Jesus, from which he rose, as well as the idea of eternal life.
While I am by no means Christian, I respect the Easter holiday and those who take time off to celebrate it. Yet, as I reflect on it, I also remember an event, nearly one hundred years ago, which undermined the purpose of the holy day: the Easter Rising, a violent uprising in Ireland in 1916 that saw the Irish fight for independence against British rule. The results were horrific: between 400 and 500 people were killed, and nearly 2,500 were wounded. 90 people were sentenced to death, and 15 of those were executed by firing squad. Leaders, including John MacBride, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, and James Connolly, were killed as well. This incident, albeit on Easter Monday, nevertheless seems to me a huge irony. Instead of resurrection, it was insurrection.
William Butler Yeats, one of the most iconic poets in British-Irish literature, commemorated the Easter Rising in his poem “Easter, 1916.” I discovered this work in 7th grade, having had a teacher who was a huge Anglophile. Although the poem didn’t really impact me then, it has stayed in my mind all of these years and has now surfaced, just in time for the observation of a religious holiday.
So why am I writing this? Simply put, I wanted to juxtapose the Easter holiday with “Easter, 1916,” and show that although today is about birth and hope for the eternal life, we must also remember death and the lost ones in our lives. Happy Easter, everyone.
Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats
I have met them at close of dayComing with vivid facesFrom counter or desk among greyEighteenth-century houses.I have passed with a nod of the headOr polite meaningless words,Or have lingered awhile and saidPolite meaningless words,And thought before I had doneOf a mocking tale or a gibeTo please a companionAround the fire at the club,Being certain that they and IBut lived where motley is worn:All changed, changed utterly:A terrible beauty is born.
That woman’s days were spentIn ignorant good-will,Her nights in argumentUntil her voice grew shrill.What voice more sweet than hersWhen, young and beautiful,She rode to harriers?This man had kept a schoolAnd rode our wingèd horse;This other his helper and friendWas coming into his force;He might have won fame in the end,So sensitive his nature seemed,So daring and sweet his thought.This other man I had dreamedA drunken, vainglorious lout.He had done most bitter wrongTo some who are near my heart,Yet I number him in the song;He, too, has resigned his partIn the casual comedy;He, too, has been changed in his turn,Transformed utterly:A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose aloneThrough summer and winter seemEnchanted to a stoneTo trouble the living stream.The horse that comes from the road,The rider, the birds that rangeFrom cloud to tumbling cloud,Minute by minute they change;A shadow of cloud on the streamChanges minute by minute;A horse-hoof slides on the brim,And a horse plashes within it;The long-legged moor-hens dive,And hens to moor-cocks call;Minute by minute they live:The stone’s in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrificeCan make a stone of the heart.O when may it suffice?That is Heaven’s part, our partTo murmur name upon name,As a mother names her childWhen sleep at last has comeOn limbs that had run wild.What is it but nightfall?No, no, not night but death;Was it needless death after all?For England may keep faithFor all that is done and said.We know their dream; enoughTo know they dreamed and are dead;And what if excess of loveBewildered them till they died?I write it out in a verse—MacDonagh and MacBrideAnd Connolly and PearseNow and in time to be,Wherever green is worn,Are changed, changed utterly:A terrible beauty is born.