The Dilemma

There is a popular public house in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter named the John Hewitt.  I am delighted with this name …  

commemorating my favourite Ulster poet – after Heaney.  It is ironic of course as John Hewitt was anything but a regular pub goer!  A single bottle or half-pint was his limit.  That he was a socialist merely endears him more to me.Like all of the thinking people of Ulster, he lived his life with The Dilemma.  This is how he expressed it. …
                      The Dilemma

Born in this island, maimed by history and creed-infected,

by my father taught, the stubborn habit of unfettered thought

I dreamed, like him, all people should be free

So, while my logic steered me

well outside that ailing church that claims dominion over the questing spirit,

I denied all credence to the state by rebels won from a torn nation,

rigged to guard their gain, though they assert their love of liberty,

which craft has narrowed to a fear of Rome.

So, since this ruptured country is my home,

it long has been my bitter luck to be

caught in the crossfire of their false campaign.

Here at a distance, rocked by hopes and fears with each convulsion of that fevered state,

the chafing thoughts attract, in sudden spate, neglected shadows from my boyhood years:

the Crossley tenders caged and roofed with wire, the crouching Black and Tans,

the Lewis gun, the dead lad in the entry: one by one the Catholic public houses set on fire:

the anxious curfew of the summer night, the thoroughfares deserted,

at a door three figures standing, till the tender’s roar, approaching slower,

drives them out of sight: and on the broad roof of the County Gaol

the singing prisoners brief freedom take

to keep an angry neighbourhood awake with rattled plate and pot and metal pail:

below my bedroom window, bullet-spark along the kerb,

the beat of rapid feet of the lone sniper, clipping up the street,

soon lost, the gas-lamps shattered, in the dark:

and on the paved edge of our cinder-field, intent till dusk upon the game,

I ran against a briskly striding, tall young man,

and glimpsed the rifle he thought well-concealed.

At Auschwitz, Dallas, I felt no surprise

when violence, across the world’s wide screen, declared the age imperiled:

I had seen the future in that frightened gunman’s eyes. …  

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