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Slane Hill Graves

Spring 2014 - Vol. 56, No. 2


This poem appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe now, go here.


I stood atop Slane Hill
Where Patrick’s fire burned
And broken chapel floors fill
With rain water. The graves
About have risen with
The dead. And tourists turn
To knotted, brazen lists
Of all the “weak or brave,”
In any case, those lost
Beneath the winning streams
Of history. The cost
Of burial is the means
To tell their stories unbroken.

A raised arm with its hand
Bearing a Triune token,
Juts from the stone of Patrick’s
Carved-as-flowing body,
Stands still against the clouds,
The ranging cows and calves
In the field beyond. The crowd
Approves the misty scene:
A few crosses and the stone-
Trunked tower, scorched and silent.

Patrick’s bulk has since grown
Rooted awaiting visitors,
Now that the tribes have gone,
And all the converts, chasing
Other tokens, and yawning
At the mere mention of
The raging winter fire
With its burden of holiness.
He answers new desires
Such as are better served
In sentiment and silence.
But living, he gave life,
Its truth in love and violence.


James Matthew Wilson’s most recent book is The Violent and the Fallen. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at Villanova University.