As today is World Poetry Day and to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the Dardanelles (Land) Campaign this time next month April 25th, I offer this poem, which I wrote after my visit to the Gallipoli Peninsula a few years ago.
The poem was inspired by my visit and also by the poem of the same name ‘The Irish at Gallipoli’ written by Irish Poet Francis Ledwidge before he was killed during the war on the Western Front. Ledwidge had seen the worst of the sufferings experienced by 10th Irish Division after the Suvla Bay landings in August and had penned his poem, while on a troopship sailing past the ancient city of Troy. The Irish and the other allied soldiers who served at Gallipoli had a healthy respect for the Turkish soldiers they fought in 1915.
The Gallipoli Peninsula today is a national park holding the graves and unmarked remains of thousands of soldiers on both sides who perished there. The poem is also a recognition of the, until recently, forgotten story of Irish soldiers lost during the conflict and to subsequent Irish historiography.
(After a visit to the battlefields -2011)
Today I stood above the Aegean Sea
listening for echoes I could not hear.
The silent tempo of the ground
resonates still on unnatural landscapes.
The zig-zag lines where dead men toil
dug deep into blood smeared soil,
buried now with their bones
on beaches and gullies where once
they fought the Turk,
stormed the shores and hills as if thrown
against the wind by Agamemnon himself.
The silence bade me look towards Troy
across the Straits from Helles,
I still could hear no voice, nor thunder in the sky
except the launching waves
pushing ancient pebbles up the beach to rest,
where once they drowned the hearts of men.
Then behind me I could feel it,
the noise of peace and echoes of war
in a thousand monuments to the dead,
stretched out in marching order.
And there, watching me, my shadow
took on the specter of a ghost and spoke,
‘Like Hector I was the defender
brave and virtuous – but of Irish stock,
I am the soldier my country forsook.’
And in response I said
‘I have come at last to pay my respects,
I have come to take you home!’
Michael J. Whelan
Michael J. Whelan lives in Tallaght and is an award winning poet, writer and historian. For more about Michael and his work, please see his blog.