In 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Over 200,000 Irishmen fought in theatres across the world, and 49,400 died. One such casualty of the war was Thomas Michael “Tom” Kettle, academic, journalist, barrister, writer, poet, and Member of Parliament. An advocate for Home Rule and an ardent supporter of democracy and liberty, he joined the Irish Volunteers but at the outbreak of war in 1914 he joined the IrishRegiment and was commissioned in the 9th Battalion Dublin Fusiliers. He died on 9 September 1916 leading his men at Ginchy during the Battle of the Somme. His best known poem was written just days before his death. His daughter, Betty, was just three years old.
To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God
In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
To dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
And some decry it in a knowing tone.
So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.
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What does Kettle mean by “the secret Scripture of the poor”>
I understand it as a reference to the Christian tradition of compassion for the poor and needy and the promise of Christianity that all may be saved regardless of their status or wealth. For me, Kettle is saying that he, and others who fought, were fighting for a higher ideal than national loyalty.
Thanks Aaron. My own reading is similar. I saw it as a reference to the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek etc.” and not the powerful war mongers.