© By Paul Muldoon
When the master was calling the roll
At the primary school in Collegelands,
You were meant to call back Anseo
And raise your hand
As your name occurred.
Anseo, meaning here, here and now,
All present and correct,
Was the first word of Irish I spoke.
The last name on the ledger
Belonged to Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
And was followed, as often as not,
By silence, knowing looks,
A nod and a wink, the masters droll
And wheres our little Ward-of-court?
I remember the first time he came back
The master had sent him out
Along the hedges
To weigh up for himself and cut
A stick with which he would be beaten.
After a while, nothing was spoken
He would arrive as a matter of course
With an ash-plant, a salley-rod.
Or, finally, the hazel-wand
He had whittled down to a whip-lash,
Its twist of red and yellow lacquers
Sanded and polished,
And altogether so delicately wrought
That he had engraved his initials on it.
I last met Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward
In a pub just over the Irish border.
He was living in the open,
in a secret camp
On the other side of the mountain.
He was fighting for Ireland,
Making things happen.
And he told me, Joe Ward,
Of how he had risen through the ranks
To Quartermaster, Commandant:
How every morning at parade
His volunteers would call back Anseo
And raise their hands
As their names occurred.
© Paul Muldoon, permissons Faber & Faber Ltd.
Paul Muldoon’s Anseo suggests that the brutal streak in a rural Catholic education was to blame for hardening some young men into the paramilitaries they later became.
‘‘Anseo’ is a very strong statement, if you want to read the poem that way: it’s saying the society from which the child emerges is an oppressive, cruel one, and it’s a Catholic society. I’m saying it now, but it’s more powerfully embodied in the poem … I know these people, and some of them love the notion of being oppressed. The society that Joe Ward posits for the future, the society that the IRA posits for the future, is not a society I want to know. I’m making these crude statements now only to underline how much more effectively I do it in verse.”