Commemorating Michael Collins

by Padraic Colum

A woman said, ‘He would sit there,

Listening to songs, my mother’s sheaf,

And he would charm her to regain

Songs out of note for fifty years,

(Did he remember the old songs?)

For he was of the mould of men

Who had renown in her young days,

The champions of cross-roads and fields.’


(His head as like the head upon

A coin when coins were minted well,

An athlete passing from the games

To take his place in citadel.)


‘But once I saw a sadness come 

Upon his face, and that was strange –

The song she sang had less of fret

Than all the rest – A Milking Song,

(Did he remember the old songs?)

A girl’s lilt as she drew streams

Into her pail at evening fall.

But you would think some great defeat

Was in his mind as she sang on.’


(Some man whom Plutarch tells about

Heard in the cadence of a song

The breaking of a thread, and knew

The hold he had was not for long.)


‘Only that once. All other times

He was at ease. The open door

Might show no danger lay across

That  youngman’s path as he sat there,

Listening to songs of the old time

When songs were secret in their hope.

(Did he remember the old songs?)’


(A strategist, he left behind

Pursuit each day and thwarted death

To plan campaign would leave no name

To field nor to a shrine a wreath.)


But she had seen upon his face

Something that danger could not cause

Nor could she guess: the fateful glimpse

On instant opened to the man

Summoned by history. He will know

While someone outside lilts the words

That have no fret, that he must choose

Between what forceful men will name

Desertion, but that he’ll conceive

As action to bring fruitful peace

And see (it could be) rifle raised

Against deserter who had led.


(Who breaks into a history breaks

Into an ambush, frenzy-set,

Where comrades turn to foes, and they

The clasp of comradeship forget.)


‘Did he remember the old songs?’

She asks where requiem leads us on

By quays, through streets, to burial-ground.

I answer from my parching mind,

‘His powers made him prodigy,

But old devotions kept him close

To what was our; he’d not forget

Threshold and hearthstone and old songs.

The requiem made for divers men

Is history; his music was

The thing that happened, as said Finn.’

‘No one is left on Ireland’s ground

To hear that music,’ she intoned,

‘Since Michael Collins walks no more.’


(The citadel he entered in

Without procession or acclaim

And brought a history to an end,

Setting his name ‘gainst Norman name.)