The passing of a poet: Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

We join with so many others around the world today in grieving the loss of 1995 Nobel Poet Laureate and 1994 Swarthmore honorary degree recipient, Seamus Heaney. He was aged 74.

In some of his work, Heaney expressed the deep grief generated by violent conflict in Northern Ireland and nurtured the possibility of hard-won peace. Here are lines from the chorus at the end of “The Cure at Troy,” Heaney’s translation of “The Philoctetes,” by Sophocles.

Seamus HeaneyHuman 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 further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
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.

See a photo tribute to Heaney at the Irish Times.

Photo attribution: By Sean O’Connor, cropped by Sabahrat (File:Seamus Heaney.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASeamus_Heaney_(cropped).jpg

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