Swarthmore College Department of

Peace & Conflict Studies Blog

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