The Saturday Poem: Roger Casement in Carrickmines

A new poem by Damian Smyth

Damian Smyth. Photograph: Bobbie Hanvey

Damian Smyth. Photograph: Bobbie Hanvey


If there is a place to mourn travellers, this must be where it is.

Already the sky is lit up with the discipline of autumn,

Branch by branch, hand over fist, as if nothing is the matter;

The ivy and green willow unfettered, sovereign and ablaze,

By the same paths perfect horses danced on to make a solid earth,

Where everything that’s lost is remembered equally and for ever,

Which means nothing is; which means the generations heal over.

It is a fair step from here to the seashore, as you well know,

Although I am on my way there even so with foreign cousins

And inhospitable neighbours – cherished outcasts – to make amends

For the black wounds of the natural world, its prefab Eden,

For the cathedral of a sparrow’s chest, the incendiary tea-lights

Of your plastic bouquets, zinc clatter of your murdered talk.

O valour of your exiled children, O sultry darkness of Congolese vines

Dripping sap into the gourds: I ran away with two old people,

But they were killed, and the soldiers made me carry the baskets

Holding their cut-off hands. The North King Street tenements

Run-through again, bayonets bright under the shell-fire of Mons.

After all, aren’t the Four Courts always on fire? Those squats

And factories – Boland, Jacob, South Dublin Union – suddenly vexed

That had been antique and tired, now once more extraordinary.

And the sea is still where salt water is summoned by the handful

For your dead children; brought to them by the fistful over Irish miles,

Till their silks, blouses, their curls and jumpers, are extinguished

By the island; a whole hundred years too late but sorry on our behalf.

Damian Smyth’s collections include The Lamentations ( 2010 ), Market Street (2010), and Mesopotamia (Templar, 2014). A new book, English Street, is due this year