“Government”

Submitted by AWL on 3 September, 2014 - 2:23 Author: Janine Booth (intro) / Eva Gore-Booth (poem)

Eva Gore-Booth (1870–1926) was an Irish poet and dramatist, and a suffragist and labour movement activist.

She was the younger sister of Constance Markiewicz, the nationalist, socialist and feminist who took part in the 1916 Easter Rising and in its aftermath became the first woman elected to the British Parliament, but who, as an Irish republican, refused to take her seat.

Eva became politically active before her older sister did, and like Constance, reacted against her privileged background and committed herself to siding with oppressed people and fighting for social change. She spent most of her adult life living in North West England with her partner Esther Roper, where they organised among the region’s workers in support of votes for women, published a radical journal about gender and sexuality, Urania, and campaigned for prison reform. Eva was an accomplished poet, whose work was admired by W B Yeats — who himself later wrote a poem, “In Memory Of Eva Gore-Booth And Con Markievicz”.

This poem, “Government”, was published in The Workers’ Dreadnought (the newspaper of the Workers’ Suffrage Federation) in its Christmas 1917 issue. It begins by arguing that the killings of the First World War were nothing new for the world’s ruling classes, but a continuation of what they have done throughout the ages. Roger Casement, referred to in the ninth line, was an Irish nationalist, who had previously been a British diplomat and campaigner against human rights abuses and slavery; after the 1916 Easter Rising, Casement was stripped of his knighthood, tried, and hanged for treason.

The poem continues by describing the battlefield slaughter in the rulers’ interests, before concluding with a hopeful desire for peace. The poem is punctuated by short lines which interrupt its flow, concluding each point before moving on to the next, and making us pause for thought.


The rulers of the Earth, savage and blind,
Have dug Gethsemane for all mankind,
For their humour and their glory and their pride
In every age the heroes of all nations died.
Thus Joan of Arc and Socrates were slain
By the World’s Bane
Jesus Christ, a thousand years ago,
They served so;
And Roger Casement, just the other day,
Went the same way.
Now is their hour of power and life’s despair,
From blasted earth and desecrated air.
The universal death that is their dream
Flowst o’er the earth in a great lava stream,
‘Whelming men’s thoughts in floods of liquid fire
To light the old world’s funeral pyre.
Shall then our hearts in hell-fire burn
To serve their turn?
God’s splendid rebels, and men’s stupid slaves
Earn the same graves.
Oh! Rather let us scorn life’s baser gains,
The joyless spoils of death-strewn battle plains,
Where for our riches, glory and their lust
Some million human brains are bloodstained dust.
Far better labour for that purpose known
With the Gods alone,
That hides behind the darkness and the storm
In every human form,
If but to die on God’s dear battle plain,
Where daisies mount to life through sun and rain,
Whilst the wild winds their rapturous tumults rouse,
And the trees fight for beauty in green boughs.
Peace be to those who rule and hate and kill -
The world’s true will
Has brought, in this black hour of pain and strife,
Violet to life.

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