Poetry for St. Patrick’s Day

While both my husband’s family and mine (at least on my father’s side) have been in the US since before Revolutionary times, it is hard to consider ourselves much other than Americans. However, both families also had roots in Ireland, so I suppose I’ve got some Irish DNA in my system.

However, as I’ve said before in this blog, I like to celebrate everything.

Since my Inaugural Poetry series was pretty popular last year, I thought it would be appropriate to mark St. Patrick’s Day this year by posting the poem by Irish poet that Joe Biden often quoted in his 2020 campaign for President. The fact that Biden quoted poetry in his speeches (not to mention that his wife TEACHES literature) gave me hope that he would include poetry in his own inauguration–which, of course, he did, resulting it the public recognition of the amazing and astounding Amanda Gorman.

That poem, “The Hill We Climb,” is probably President Biden’s #1 verse right now. But this is the poem that seemed closest to Irish-American Joe Biden’s heart prior to that:

The Cure of 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-strikers father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don’t hope 
On the 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 
And lightening 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.

This poem was inspired by Sophocles’ play Philoctetes, which addresses one of the many lesser-known parts of the Trojan War. Heaney, along with many other Irish writers of the time, saw parallels between the decade-long Trojan War and the Northern Ireland conflict, which had been going on for nearly 25 years at the time Heaney wrote the poem. In Philoctetes, Odysseus approaches as suffering outcast among the Greeks to ask for his bow, which he thinks might be the key to finally defeating the Trojans. So it’s a poem that speaks to the pain and the suffering of human conflict, but also to the the spark of hope that things can get better when the right people and circumstances align themselves. And, indeed, 7 years after this poem was published, the violence of that conflict mostly came to an end with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

I think it’s quite a lovely poem, and I can see why it resonated with Joe Biden, especially during the troubling times of 2020.

So may he be right. May this be one of those times when hope and history rhyme.

Here is the poet himself reciting the poem in his lovely Irish accent:

And though he isn’t Irish, I also love Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version that was broadcast during the Inaugrational Celebration:

So, like a good literature teacher, I started this St. Patrick’s Day with poetry. We will end it with our usual way to celebrate holidays–food. I plan to cook a casserole that is based on a mixture of the Irish sausages known as Bangers and the classic Irish side dish Colcannon, which is made of potatoes, cabbage, and cream. I’ve never tried making a Banger-Colcannon casserole, and of course I don’t have a recipe for one. Still, based on those ingredients, I can’t see how I can go too far wrong.

Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day. And may the luck of the Irish be with you!

2 thoughts on “Poetry for St. Patrick’s Day

  1. Happy at Patrick’s day carol! What a lovely post, thank you fir sharing that and especially the video so that we can hear the poem spoken in that beautiful accent!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. Poetry is a deeply felt tradition among the Irish, so I think it’s nice to spotlight that aspect of Irish culture that isn’t as commonly celebrated here in the US (although I think that is changing). I think it’s an honest but uplifting poem, especially delivered with that Irish lilt.


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