Thursday, November 12, 2020

Poetry on Thursday

Joe Biden has often quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney, especially his verse play The Cure at Troy, so I've chosen an excerpt to share today. The story concerns Philoctetes, an archer who has been gifted with a magic bow. On his way to the Trojan War, a snake bites his foot and the bite becomes infected. He is abandoned on an island, but it is foretold that this wound will be healed at Troy if he ever arrives there. But he resents his abandonment, blaming Odysseus in particular for the decision to leave him behind. Philoctetes is faced with a decision: does he choose to continue on the mission he originally set out on, one with a cure at the end, or does he let the injuries and indignities he suffered on the way define him? Can he work with former enemies to create an outcome they all want?  The Greek Chorus advises him with this stanza.

Excerpt from The Cure at Troy
by Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.
The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.
Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme. 
Heaney, Seamus. The Cure at Troy. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1990.
You can read more about Seamus Heaney here
I wish you mindfulness, peace, hope, a cure for your ills, and some poetry as this week winds down.


  1. You have outdone yourself, Bonny. Here at 5:20am in the dark, I have been moved greatly by this poem. I also never saw this campaign ad, and it is very moving. Thank you for a perfect start to the day. I have to take my husband to the dentist today, and I am very apprehensive about it. He lost a huge filling, and he has to go, but this is the worst possible time to get him out in public. I am sure it will be fine, but I will be glad when he is back home to our little nest. Thank you for introducing me to this poet! I hope you have a mindful Thursday full of hope and and peace.

  2. Oh my. Once in a lifetime justice can rise up. YES! Thank you, Bonny.

  3. Seamus Heaney will always be a fave of mine. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Having a president who reads should be a given, but having a president who reads and recites poetry... well, that is something that is simply divine. Every time I have heard Joe quote this poem, it brings tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it today, especially with the context. These words seem to be the mantra for all of us right now...I am printing this out and putting it where I can read it frequently.

  5. When I am feeling down, I am going to come back to this recording. It is so inspiring to hear the words of this poem spoken!

  6. Thank you, even though I am now in a puddle of tears. It has been such an emotional time and to hear our president elect reading poetry fills me with hope for our future.

    1. I have heard Joe Biden quote this poem several times, but when I read it myself and really looked into it, I was deeply moved. First, by Seamus Heaney and the poem, and second that we are now lucky enough to have a president-elect that turns to poetry and uses it so effectively.

  7. Oh my. Thank you for all of this!! I can't wait until there's a brain in the White House again.

  8. I had a different experience while reading this poem (but, I am glad to have a President who reads-and understands-poetry). Half of my family is of a different mind (I want to say on the other side) and I can hear this as their battle cry, too. My fear has not abated and I am not ready to celebrate that justice is ours.

  9. You always bring it Bonny. Thank-you. xo

  10. Hope for a great sea-change. Wonderful line. Also Once in a lifetime....

    As Vicki says, I am so looking forward to a brain occupying the White House!

  11. I had no idea Joe Biden quoted poetry. How wonderful to have someone so thoughtful in the White House. So let's hope for "a great sea-change on the far side of revenge." This is a hopeful time and I have to think the line that follows the one about sea-change is important.

  12. I love that Joe Biden quoted it. I love that image of him with the child.
    I have not seen that poem before and it is so powerful!

  13. beautiful quote and Biden is IT.

  14. Yes. Yes. Yes. The power of poetry! (And . . . a president who reads - and quotes - poetry!)
    Thanks, Bonny.

  15. wow. I hadn't seen this (at least not that I recall). THANK YOU so much for sharing. and gosh, January 20 can't come soon enough.


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