[Poem] The Greatest Hell – Bobby Sands

Poem by Bobby Sands read by Richard Behal at the 30th anniversary of the Hunger Strike
commemoration in Bundoran August 27, 2011.
The poem was written circa 1980. The only time this has appeared in print was in SAOIRSE, September 2011.

The Greatest Hell

There’s gaol, there’s gaol, where wretched souls have been took and locked away
These 8 by 8 tombs (concrete graves) where you barely see the light of day
Where in the winter, the long dark winter, the body knows the piercing bite of cold,
And the wind (not draughts) chills the heartiest man and tries both brave and bold.

Where a man is forced to lie upon a mattress damp and dirty upon the freezing concrete floor,
Naked except for some filthy rags (the heart cries out) the body asks ’Dearest God How much more?’
But there’s more in abundance, for I’ve seen sleet and snow come through the window bars and water turn to ice.

And men in their dozens collapse with chills and let me tell you when they fell, the cock crowed more than trice!
For I’ve given more than passing thought to those who sit upon opportunity (like vultures watching, watching me).
And I know if it were politically expedient, before the cock could crow again, they’d scream “set those poor men free”.

Sleepless nights precedes sleepless nights’ and dreamless sleep precedes endless, endless nightmares;
For day and night are perpetually wrought with hell and there’s torture, pain and torment everywhere.
And time comes and times goes, but it really hasn’t went at all, it’s trapped in here with me.

And if there were comfort to be found in these dirty,mutilated, scarred and filthy walls, I’d find lots of sympathy.
But all there is are contrasts, all evil and cowards, cringing cowards beat men to pulp,
While prison doctors sat “self-inflicted” (‘lick your wounds my men’). Well dare you call upon them to consult.

They shear our heads and beards and with disinfectant and the heavy brush, they wash out every crack.
Then they try to scrub the POW from your mind and imprint the tag criminal upon your back.
Doctors, governors, chiefs and screws, there’s no God’s amount of hypocrites to be founds.
They who go to church on Sundays saying “Lord I Love Thee Lord” as they kneel upon the ground,

And they celebrate the consecration of wine into his precious blood, within that sacred cup.
Then they throw it right back in his face (when only doing their job) they beat the naked up.
Summer, two have gone and three more may well be born and come to be.
But the sun will never bronze the ghostly skins of the ghosts in this eternity But the tombs will turn to ovens and a stifling stench will cut the air.

From the decaying waste and urine, from the putrefying rubbish that lies strewn everywhere.
Then they’ll come, the pests and germs and crawling things to squat amongst the stinking mess
Creeping into your beard and hair, into the very filthy rags that you possess.
And flies, mice and maggots breed like flies from flies that have already bred.

(Stand up those who have woken up in the morning with a hundred maggots in their bed.)
The grave I’ve heard men say ‘would be more preferable’ (and perhaps that may be true)
For in this Hell your buried alive and there’s nothing you can do.
Will these legs ever run again? Will these eyes ever again feast upon delight?

Do lovers still walk hand in hand? Or do the stars still sparkle high up in the sky each night?
Is the foliage green or brown? Does the texture of a leaf still feel the same?
Are there children in the morning? Will I see these things again?
Perhaps! Yes perhaps my eyes, my mind and heart may live again to see.

But only when I leave this panoramic view of darkness for the golden dream of Liberty.
But do not misconstrue this, when I say “Sometimes I care not what may be”?
For torture is the devil I have faced and faced and I care no more just what they do to me.
And yes, there’s gaol, there’s gaol and there’s an eternity and a hell that burns the very soul and flesh
But stand up those men who live in the Greatest Hell! The H-Blocks of Long Kesh!!!

— Marcella POW [Bobby Sands]