|Ledwidge (on right) with his mother|
Born on August 19th, 1887, the "Poet of the Blackbirds," like many men in the muddy trenches of the First World War, coped with the tragedy and tedium of life on the Western Front by dreaming of home and imagining himself returning there.
A burst of sudden wings at dawn,
Faint voices in a dreamy noon,
Evenings of mist and murmurings,
And nights with rainbows of the moon.
And through these things a wood-way dim,
And waters dim, and slow sheep seen
On uphill paths that wind away
Through summer sounds and harvest green.
This is a song a robin sang
This morning on a broken tree,
It was about the little fields
That call across the world to me.
The poem revels in quietness. Rising above the din of battle, "faint voices" and "mist and murmurings" speak louder than shell bursts and cannon fire. The trill of a single robin on a blasted tree echoes for hundreds of miles, recalling bird song from across the Irish Sea.
The poem also moves with deliberate slowness. The sheep meander on uphill paths, and the leisurely movement of the day shifts from dawn to noon, then from evening to night. Time will not be hurried, but moves purposefully through the seasons, from "summer sounds" to "harvest green."
War and its frenzied tempo seem very far away – and that is the beauty and gift of this poem, written in mid-July of 1917, during a pause in the bombardment that preceded the Third Battle of Ypres. Ledwidge was killed two weeks later on July 31st.