The short life of Sidney Keyes (1922–1943) is in itself a striking metaphor for the cruelty and futility of war. He was killed in action before his twenty-first birthday in Tunisia. His book The Cruel Solstice (1944) can be read on Faded Page (tinyurl.com/4282dd4u).
Keyes was an unusual poet, in many ways more interesting than his contemporary at Oxford Philip Larkin. Michael Meyer says of him:
Keyes had developed an acute historic sense which enabled him to recreate the very spirits of those who stirred his imagination; and the poet within him dwelt only among the mighty dead. Blake, Schiller, Wordsworth and, above all, Yeats and Rilke, were more intimate to him than the contemporary world. He was in the closest and most constant contact with their minds through their writing, and he preferred their company to that of the living.
Gabriel Rosenstock has taken a poem from The Cruel Solstice, a poem called “War Poet,” which shows flashes of the brilliance denied to the world, and translated it into Irish.
■ Sidney Keyes (1922–1943) (https://tinyurl.com/5a7c2rrv)
I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed.
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me:
When I reach for the wind
Cast me not down:
Though my face is a burnt book
And a wasted town.
Mise an té a lorg an tsíocháin
Is bhí mo shúile féin deilgneach.
Mise a bhí sa tóir ar bhriathra
Agus bhí an tsaighead im’ ghlac.
Mise an tógálaí is a chuid ballaí daingne
Ar ghaineamh súraic.
Más tinn a bheidh mé nó as mo mheabhair
Ná bí ag spochadh asam led’ shlabhraí:
Má lorgaímse gaotha
Ná leag go talamh mé:
Fiú más leabhar dóite é mo chuntanós
Nó baile creachta.
■ Recent free books from Gabriel Rosenstock: Don Quixote in the Land of Shadows (https://tinyurl.com/2zfknrk2); “A Scent of Loneliness” (https://tinyurl.com/mwyb3ebd).