Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Last time I posted, I linked to the song Grace. This is a song we first heard in Ireland when my oldest sons were 2 years old and 6 weeks old. We loved the song for its theme of fidelity and love but couldn't track it down anywhere until we acquired an Irish Tenor CD around the time Aidan was born.

The story behind the song is a true story and very romantic. It is written about the last night of Joseph Mary Plunkett, an Irish revolutionary, Catholic scholar and poet who was executed for his part in the Easter Uprising in 1916.

As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jaill
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we've failed?
Joseph Mary Plunkett, 28 years old, wed his fiancee (a convert to Catholicism) Grace Gifford just hours before his execution by firing squad. Grace's brother in law, married to her sister Muriel, also a convert to Catholicism, was also executed for his part in the uprising.

I had to leave my own sick bed, to him I had to go~
this was historical fact... Joseph Plunkett had just had surgery for tuberculosis.

Now as the dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too
On this May morn as I walk out, my thoughts will be of you
And I'll write some words upon the wall so everyone will know
I loved so much that I could see his blood upon the rose.

Joseph Mary Plunkett was a talented Catholic poet. One of his poems is I See His Blood Upon the Rose (here are some more) and so the line in the song is a reference to his ongoing faith even unto death.

Sometimes people look at suffering children and hurting people and wonder where God is and why He does not prevent these things if He is both good and powerful. CS Lewis writes about this subject in The Problem of Pain and again, from a grippingly personal point of view, after his wife died, in A Grief Observed. I love both these books. Pain is a philosophical and religious problem but ultimately it is a personal matter. Look at EA Robinson's Richard Cory if you want to see a scathing and concise summary of why having the good things in life don't always mean content and happiness.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Pain is real and dismaying, almost crushing at times. But does it really have anything to do with Joy or the lack of it? In my small experience of pain, some of the most "good" times in my life have been not joyful, and some of my purest moments of Joy have come in the midst of pure pain. Again, CS Lewis has something to say about this. I know there is a lot more to the subject, so many stories of pain and injustice and wrenching cruelty. But somehow, there is more to life than what can be done to us. The story of Joseph and Grace Plunkett reminds me of that, which is why this song has so much meaning to us and why it has become entwined into our lives in a way we could not have predicted when we first heard it 18 years ago.

I see His Blood Upon the Rose

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.


Alice said...

I have always loved the song "Grace," and it is a big favorite in our family. Although I'd heard snippets of the story before, your account is by far the most thorough and enlightening I've heard. It is particularly interesting to discover Joseph Mary Plunkett as a Catholic poet. "I See His Blood Upon the Rose" will remain with me always.

Love2Learn Mom said...

Beautiful post!

Mary Ellen Barrett said...

I never knew the story behind the song. Thank you so much for your wonderful post and introducing me to a new poet of my heritage!