A wonderful essay, her first to be published in The Masses, by Louise Bryant defending the Easter Rebellion in Ireland and celebrating its effects on a world wearied by the Imperialist war. Born Anna Louise Mohan to a Fenian father and and Irish-American mother, Louise Bryant would count Jim Larkin, who collaborated with husband John Reed in founding the Communist Labor Party, as a close friend and would lead his defense when arrested.
‘The Poet’s Revolution’ by Louise Bryant from The Masses. Vol. 8 No. 9. July, 1916.
THE Irish Revolution is the most hopeful thing that has happened since the world went war mad. Ever since August, 1914, we have been asking one another why the Socialists didn’t do more. We wondered why they preferred to die somewhere in France fighting for something they hated instead of dying at home gloriously for something they loved.
A practical world answered us that “human nature” is not constituted that way. We were assured that at the first call of the bugle we would all rush to arms to fight for “our country right or wrong.” With horror we have beheld so many champions of the Brotherhood of Man go down before the scorching flame of race-hatred though we all know that the present struggle is merely a commercial war without the shadow of an ideal to inspire anyone. The revolutionary spirit seemed dead.
Every time we read in the British controlled press how the Irish, the Hindoos, the Canadians and the Australians were rallying to the aid of England we felt sick. We saw a carefully fostered Pro-Ally feeling growing up in this county, fed on such sentimental lies as England’s motherly feeling for small nations like Belgium and Serbia, her overwhelming love for America, her fake tears over the death of Miss Cavell and her sorrow over Rupert Brooke. The public seemed so hopelessly deluded by all this that they forgot India, they forgot South Africa and they even forgot Ireland.
Then suddenly came the splendid revolt of the Irish- a revolt led by poets and scholars-a revolt which actually lasted but a few hours and which was doomed to defeat from the start, yet which won the greatest victory of the whole bloody war.
I do not over emphasize the significance of this sublime protest of the “dreamers” when I say that it has given to a depressed and bewildered world a new faith in mankind. That handful of revolutionists fighting with the fervor of saints “with a copy of Sophocles in one hand and a rifle in the other,” as one correspondent described them, have done more for the progress of the world than all the millions who have hopelessly shed their blood on the battlefields of Europe.
One proof of this is the wave of warm-hearted indignation that has swept the usually cold and prejudiced editorial pages of American newspapers this past week. They have begun uttering strange truths and admitting that they have been pretty badly fooled by a little soft talk. They have discovered with great surprise that England would have shot every one of the signers of our own Declaration of Independence if she could have laid hands on them at the time. Horrified editors of unimpeachable conventionality have announced that Sir Roger Casement did no more in going to Germany for assistance than Benjamin Franklin did in going to France during our Revolution.
They have unanimously denounced England’s brutality, and have requested her with dignity not to mention Belgium again. This turning inward of the eyes of the American people cannot help but be of some benefit and may possibly help to counteract the hysterical Preparedness propaganda so fostered by England in her desire to drag us into war against “the Hun.”
The Irish Revolution was the natural outcome of the Irish Labor Movement led by Jim Larkin, and of the so-called “Celtic Revival.” Unlike the old Land League and other movements, both of these were absolutely non-political, and on account of their very abstractness seemed to unite the Irish in an extraordinary way. Larkinism was a purely economic revolution closely akin to syndicalism. The Celtic revival was a conscious artistic and philosophic movement.
Larkinism raised the workers from hopeless wage slavery to the realization of their manhood. The Gaelic League in reviving art in Ireland revived also the ancient legends of Irish freedom and a longing for liberty. The results were so far reaching that England was having a hard time stirring up quarrels between the Catholics and the Protestants. Religious differences between Irishmen were always highly artificial anyway. James Stephens expressed well their feeling when he said of some peasants that, “as to religion they were Catholics, but deeper than that they were Irish folk.” And that is true. It runs deeper than their religion, this feeling of brotherhood. It has never been difficult to unite Irish Catholics under Protestant leaders like Emmett.
As for Home Rule, the Irish people have never been offered the right to govern themselves. Even the last bill only half-heartedly provided for an Irish parliament that was merely a sub-committee of Westminster. To quote an Irish witticism, “compared to nothing this Home Rule Bill was something, but compared to something it was nothing.”
And this little scrap that was tossed to them was balked by the threat of open rebellion on the part of Ulster at which the British army openly connived and which the British government made no attempt to suppress. The leader, Sir Edward Carson, is now a British Cabinet Minister. This destroyed the last hope of the Irish in England’s good faith.
To aged Irish peasants the terrible old days of famine and oppression seemed to come again. They were forbidden to speak Gaelic. War taxes amounted to over half the crops. The people were face to face with actual starvation, and on top of all that the young men knew that sooner or later conscription was inevitable.
The immediate cause of the revolt was the discovery of an order which had been sent to the military authorities in Dublin, authorizing the arrest and imprisonment of all the principal Sinn Feiners. This order was stolen from Dublin Castle by one of the rebels, and that was why they struck when they did, knowing well that it meant the end for them.
Up to the time of writing this, fourteen of the leaders of the Sinn Fein, signers of the declaration of the Irish Republic, have been put to death, and over fifteen hundred other Irishmen have been arrested and without a trial of any sort kidnapped to England and jailed. Many of them had no connection with any uprising, they are being punished simply because they are Irish and the world knows it.
A typical example of English “frightfulness” was the execution of F. Sheehy Skeffington, who had nothing at all to do with the Revolution. Skeffington’s “crime” was that every Sunday morning he made speeches against Conscription in St. Stephen’s Green, and his words had tremendous effect. Liberal-minded Irishmen have had no sympathy for any of the belligerent nations since the war began; their wishes have been all for Ireland. Even the bitterest of the Revolutionists adopted the motto: “We serve neither King nor Kaiser.” Skeffington did not go so far. He merely objected to the British scheme for driving the Irish to fight her battles for her, as they have always done; and so England killed him.
Looking at it from this distance it seems unbelievable that England could have been so stupid. She has created a deep feeling of resentment, not only in Ireland but in the heart of every lover of justice in the world.
In old times in Ireland a proverb ran, “it is death to kill a poet and death to mock one,” because it was believed that poets were fostered by the Shee. And Ancient Irish law placed the blood-money for a poet so high that it could only be paid by the death of the murderer. It is a wise nation that so cherishes its poets, and it is a foolish and shortsighted one that stands them up against a wall and shoots them because they believe in freedom.