A Terrible Beauty
First Stanza from William Butler Yeats’ Easter 1916
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
A Terrible Beauty is a reflection on the event known as the Easter Uprising which occurred in April, 1916. This event was the result of Irish Republicans hoping to end British rule and liberate their country from tyranny. Unfortunately for the Irish, the British far out-numbered and out-gunned their small resistance. Yet this action served as the spark that would eventually lead to Irish independence in 1922. In total, 485 people were killed in the fighting with more than 2,600 people wounded. The poem by William Butler Yeats speaks of the event while recognizing both its necessity, and the profound grief felt by the Irish people.
This piece is written as a tribute to the brave people of Ireland, and as a reflection on my own relationship with the country. As a third generation Irishman, I have always been fascinated by the music, culture and dances of the country. This fascination inspired me to write “A Terrible Beauty” as a traditional Irish Slip-Jig (meaning that instead of the usual 6/8, the jig is in 9/8 time with interspersed 12/8 measures for phrasing). The piece opens in a melancholy reflection of the lives lost during the uprising, and flows into an up-tempo jig through the second section. The festivities come to a halt as the mourning loved ones of the fallen begin to cry out in agony and sadness. These cries transform into a haunting chorale to signify the voices of the deceased Irish people all calling out in unison, hoping that their deaths were not in vain and that their country could be free. As the chorale ends, a new vigor is found and the piece drives forwards towards an energetic, exciting, and triumphant conclusion.