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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

13 - John Hewitt and memory: a reflection


In June 1972 in a periodical named Alliance, John Hewitt published his poem ‘Neither an Elegy nor a Manifesto: for the people of my province and the rest of Ireland’. It is an impassioned plea that the collective mind of province and country during a time of political violence should pay true respect to the individual victims of the troubles. In the poem the poet eschews the term ‘remember’ since he believes that in Ireland that term comes with a burden of partisanship, ‘a cruel web / threaded from thorn across / a hedge of dead bramble, heavy/ with pathetic atomies’. It is associated too with discredited ‘prayer’, which for Hewitt in this poem is ‘tarnished with stale breath’. Instead of acts of memory and prayer, Hewitt advises ‘Bear in mind these dead’. In the final, eighth, stanza of the poem, the poet ponders the nature of a healthy patriotism (in stanza two he had to a degree indicted a patriotism which is stirred up by rhetorical drumbeats). He asserts:

Patriotism has to do with keeping

The country in good heart, the community

Governed with justice and mercy,

These will enlist loyalty and courage often,

And sacrifice, sometimes even martyrdom.

Bear these eventualities in mind also, they will concern you for ever:

But, at this moment, bear in mind these dead.

(p. 189)

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Ormsby, F. (ed.), The Collected Poems of John Hewitt (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1991)