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War

When there was a rumour of war with France a while ago, I met a poor
Sligo woman, a soldier's widow, that I know, and I read her a sentence
out of a letter I had just had from London: "The people here are mad
for war, but France seems inclined to take things peacefully," or some
like sentence. Her mind ran a good deal on war, which she imagined
partly from what she had heard from soldiers, and partly from tradition
of the rebellion of '98, but the word London doubled her interest, for
she knew there were a great many people in London, and she herself had
once lived in "a congested district." "There are too many over one
another in London. They are getting tired of the world. It is killed
they want to be. It will be no matter; but sure the French want nothing
but peace and quietness. The people here don't mind the war coming.
They could not be worse than they are. They may as well die soldierly
before God. Sure they will get quarters in heaven." Then she began to
say that it would be a hard thing to see children tossed about on
bayonets, and I knew her mind was running on traditions of the great
rebellion. She said presently, "I never knew a man that was in a battle
that liked to speak of it after. They'd sooner be throwing hay down
from a hayrick." She told me how she and her neighbours used to be
sitting over the fire when she was a girl, talking of the war that was
coming, and now she was afraid it was coming again, for she had dreamed
that all the bay was "stranded and covered with seaweed." I asked her
if it was in the Fenian times that she had been so much afraid of war
coming. But she cried out, "Never had I such fun and pleasure as in the
Fenian times. I was in a house where some of the officers used to be
staying, and in the daytime I would be walking after the soldiers'
band, and at night I'd be going down to the end of the garden watching
a soldier, with his red coat on him, drilling the Fenians in the field
behind the house. One night the boys tied the liver of an old horse,
that had been dead three weeks, to the knocker, and I found it when I
opened the door in the morning." And presently our talk of war shifted,
as it had a way of doing, to the battle of the Black Pig, which seems
to her a battle between Ireland and England, but to me an Armageddon
which shall quench all things in the Ancestral Darkness again, and from
this to sayings about war and vengeance. "Do you know," she said, "what
the curse of the Four Fathers is? They put the man-child on the spear,
and somebody said to them, 'You will be cursed in the fourth generation
after you,' and that is why disease or anything always comes in the
fourth generation."


1902.

William Butler Yeats