28 May 2010

Too long a sacrifice...

Eritrean nationals residing abroad celebrated the 19th anniversary of Independence Day in a colorful manner, according to reports from different parts of the world.
(Shabait.com, 28 May 2010)

So they did; and I shared the celebration with some of them, so far as it goes. But what a shame that the courageous and self sacrificing promise of those long years in resistance has been so little realised in freedom since independence. “Too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart”, an Eritrean expatriate friend said to me a few years ago – quoting, of course, a poet caught up in another independence struggle not a million miles from where I am typing this. The poem is one which made a great impression on me when I was younger; later it was one of those studied on my A level English course; but I didn't finally realise how true it is until much later. The poet is caught up in the personal, his love for Maud Gonne, but the personal and the political are not to be untangled; my affection for Eritrea, despite its current darkness, lies in wonder at the resilience and warmth of many Eritrean individuals I know or have known.

Easter, 1916
William Butler Yeats

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was 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 dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes 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 sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On 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 faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

The terrible beauty in Éire brought a terrible civil war ... but, eventually, a modern and humane state, not without its problems but evolving along side the other European liberal democracies. I hope that Eritreans, at home and abroad, will eventually see the fruits, as well as the fact, of independence – and sooner, rather than later.

1 comment:

Dr. C said...

Back before we lost the high ground, it was often said that if one had the misfortune to go to war with the United States, one should promptly lose and you would be far better off than before (e.g. Germany and Japan after WWII whereas England and France fared not so well, simplistically.) One can certainly not make that claim for Iraq. Ireland was still a poor country when I lived there in 1970. But, that may not be the real metric one should use for happiness.