In Memory of Major Robert Gregory


NOW that we’re almost settled in our house    
I’ll name the friends that cannot sup with us    
Beside a fire of turf in the ancient tower,    
And having talked to some late hour    
Climb up the narrow winding stair to bed:            
Discoverers of forgotten truth    
Or mere companions of my youth,    
All, all are in my thoughts to-night, being dead.    


Always we’d have the new friend meet the old,    
And we are hurt if either friend seem cold,    
And there is salt to lengthen out the smart    
In the affections of our heart,    
And quarrels are blown up upon that head;    
But not a friend that I would bring    
This night can set us quarrelling,    
For all that come into my mind are dead.    


Lionel Johnson comes the first to mind,    
That loved his learning better than mankind,    
Though courteous to the worst; much falling he    
Brooded upon sanctity    
Till all his Greek and Latin learning seemed    
A long blast upon the horn that brought    
A little nearer to his thought    
A measureless consummation that he dreamed.    


And that enquiring man John Synge comes next,    
That dying chose the living world for text    
And never could have rested in the tomb    
But that, long travelling, he had come    
Towards nightfall upon certain set apart    
In a most desolate stony place,    
Towards nightfall upon a race    
Passionate and simple like his heart.    


And then I think of old George Pollexfen,    
In muscular youth well known to Mayo men    
For horsemanship at meets or at racecourses,    
That could have shown how purebred horses    
And solid men, for all their passion, live    
But as the outrageous stars incline    
By opposition, square and trine;    
Having grown sluggish and contemplative.


They were my close companions many a year,    
A portion of my mind and life, as it were,    
And now their breathless faces seem to look    
Out of some old picture-book;    
I am accustomed to their lack of breath,  
But not that my dear friend’s dear son,    
Our Sidney and our perfect man,    
Could share in that discourtesy of death.    


For all things the delighted eye now sees    
Were loved by him; the old storm-broken trees
That cast their shadows upon road and bridge;    
The tower set on the stream’s edge;    
The ford where drinking cattle make a stir    
Nightly, and startled by that sound    
The water-hen must change her ground;  
He might have been your heartiest welcomer.    


When with the Galway foxhounds he would ride    
From Castle Taylor to the Roxborough side    
Or Esserkelly plain, few kept his pace;    
At Mooneen he had leaped a place    
So perilous that half the astonished meet    
Had shut their eyes, and where was it    
He rode a race without a bit?    
And yet his mind outran the horses’ feet.    


We dreamed that a great painter had been born  
To cold Clare rock and Galway rock and thorn,    
To that stern colour and that delicate line    
That are our secret discipline    
Wherein the gazing heart doubles her might.    
Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,  
And yet he had the intensity    
To have published all to be a world’s delight.    


What other could so well have counselled us    
In all lovely intricacies of a house    
As he that practised or that understood
All work in metal or in wood,    
In moulded plaster or in carven stone?    
Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,    
And all he did done perfectly    
As though he had but that one trade alone.


Some burn damp fagots, others may consume    
The entire combustible world in one small room    
As though dried straw, and if we turn about    
The bare chimney is gone black out    
Because the work had finished in that flare.  
Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,    
As ’twere all life’s epitome.    
What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?    


I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind    
That shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind  
All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved,    
Or boyish intellect approved,    
With some appropriate commentary on each;    
Until imagination brought    
A fitter welcome; but a thought
Of that late death took all my heart for speech.
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