The Great War

from Retrogression and Other Poems: Electronic Edition

A Familiar Epistle
To Dr. Oliver Gogarty of Dublin
(Written in Scotland at Yuletide)


While trumpets sound and troops deploy,

Our once cool Castaly the Kaiser

Transforms into a very Geyser,

And overhung with war-cloud pluvious,

Parnassus' peaks outflame Vesuvius.

But more than peaceful is the line

I pen to you across the brine;

This somewhat overdue epistle,

Writ in the Kingdom of the Thistle,

To speed at daybreak, west by south,

From lean Loch Ryan's snarling mouth,

To Shamrock-land that gave ye birth—

The least "disthressful" land on earth.

Three Olivers before your time

Were not unknown in prose and rhyme.

One was the paladin—or pal—

Of him who fought at Roncesvalles,

And one gave Drogheda to pillage,

And one wrote "The Deserted Village";

But sorra an Oliver ever seen

Compares with him of Stephen's Green,

And from this frosty, fiery North

I hail you Oliver the Fourth.

How goes it yonder? Very soon

St. Patrick's bell will toll Night's noon,

And a convivial Dublin moon

Be gazing down with bibulous leer

On Trinity's façade severe.

But ere I sleep, one wakeful word

Clamours to be no more deferred

When, when, I pray you, shall we twain

Forgather to discourse again

Of things the world holds cheap, and we

Rate above rubies? If the sea

And sky in their most iron mood

Daunt not at all your hardihood,

What of adventuring hither, while

Throughout this blanched and shivering isle

The Heav'ns grip fast as in a vice

The Earth's hands manacled with ice,

And drop not even a frozen tear

On the cold deathbed of the Year?

Our talk shall not be all of trenches,

Falkenhayn's strategy, or French's

Rather of matters built to abide

When the last din of war has died;

Art, Thought, and Song—the unageing themes—

And those sole verities, our dreams.

But come or not, whichever suit you,

The Muse shall cordially salute you,

For Irishman with heart more true

Ne'er claimed descent from Brian Borru,

(Which sons of Erin mostly do)—

Nor ever in the days of old,

When Malachy wore the collar of gold,

Or Ulster parried Munster's blows

While Leinster pummelled Connaught's nose,

Lived the full life of feast and fast,

And found it goodly to the last.

Thus vows, with attestation fervent,

Your faithful friend—a fellow servant

Of those nine Ladies of the Height,

Who, with large promises, invite

Their lovers to their bower above,

And make a football of our love,

Toy with the troth that never wavers,

And sell so dear their fatal favours.