Original: Fall of 1950, at home in Auburndale, New York, while watching television with my mother. The news was full of die Korean War and I probably saw some background report about the difficult life of the Russian farmer. In my notes later, I put "The Communist" as a tide for it, but I have now changed that,
The Russian ploughman cuts his blistered hand
And doesn't feel the rupture to his skin
So great the pain to him of filling land
While strangers steal his toil and eat his bread.
In my field here, 1 till in thorns of sin
And when they cut, I feel my spirit bled
The Russians now may take up arms to fight
And try their hand at war to end their plight.
But me, I only try my hand at this, I write.
Treabhadóirí is Mé Féin, Mac Léinn
Tá lámh an treabhadóra stróicthe
Gan é ag aireachtáil an réabtha chnis.
Chomh mór sin dó an phian saothraithe
Is lena chuid á goid ag strainséirí.
Ach saothraím gort, is spíonta peaca leis,
Mo spiorad fuilith' ag a mbiorannaí.
Tá seans anois go láimhseoidís an claíomh
Do chur an deiridh lena ndiomachroí.
Is mé, ní dhéanaim le mo láimh ach seo, do scríobh.
Version in Irish: 7 March 2006 Raymond J Clarke / Réamonn Ó C1éiirigh
Comment: This poem was composed in my head on the same night, as I now recall, that I thought up the poems "Our New Television" and "Run". These were the only three poems in those early days where I made reference to war. They were my personal reactions to the programs I saw on the television that night, no more no less. I had no firm opinion about war then. I don't remember having any opinions about politics either, It was only after I went to Ireland in 1957, when I had a series of long discussions with friends I made there, that I developed, for the first time, a strong interest in politics and history. And 'Ireland' has been the background for all my ideas about politics, history, and even war, ever since.
About the poem: I can only guess now that the television gave an example of a Russian man so distressed in his mind (? by the 'pains' of injustice) that he couldn't feel small physical pains (like a cut to his hand). This caught my attention sitting there in the living room --- probably still thinking about my two other poems. I imagined myself to be something like the Russian but having yet another kind of pain, the 'pangs' of conscience, which would be like 'cuts' to the spirit. But then I saw myself as different from the Russian. While he might choose to deal with his mental pain by going to war, I will deal with my spiritual pain by writing a poem. And when the last word of the poem is written, it's done!
The whole thing came to me in one piece, and I remember I was surprised. I didn't actually write the poem on paper until a few days later. And more than fifty years later still (a week or so ago), when I looked at my old scribbling, I noticed something hidden in the poem that I didn't bring out in the way I wrote it. Besides the three pains that are in it, there's three events with the hand in it. There's the hand that is cut, the hand that goes to war, and the hand that writes. So, I have to tell you, I touched up the old copy, highlighting the mention of the hand three times. In this kind of poem I think it's the one-piece idea that matters --- the rhyme scheme could be this way or that, and other words could be used --- as long as the piece holds together. And I think it does.
In the Irish version, I took out the 'Russians'. I often have to take English words out to fit the Irish to the number of accents in the lines. In this case though, it helps to take the poem out of the time frame of the 1950s. So I was thinking of a young student back in early Ireland looking out a monastery window (instead of into a television screen) and comparing his spiritual life with the troubles of the ploughmen he can see.
And it's no wonder I had to keep poem like this secret from my mother. She would have looked past all the other stuff in it and said, "Raymond, what are these sins that are cutting at you?" I would have had to say, "Mom, I had to exaggerate that part just for the sake of the poem."