Poetry Sunday: Excerpt from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president last Thursday, Vice-President Biden quoted from a work by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I was not familiar with the poem and so I had to look it up. It is from a work entitled The Cure at Troy which was an adaptation by Heaney, written in verse, of Sophocles' play, Philoctetes. Philoctetes was a Greek master archer who was abandoned on a desert island by his fellow soldiers and countrymen and was later asked by the Greeks to return to fight in the Trojan War. The work was published in 1991 and in writing it, Heaney evidently was thinking of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland. It seems to fit equally well our own troubles of today. It is a poem for all times.

Verses 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.


  1. What a beautiful, beautiful poem! It's left me speechless.

    1. The poem is an eloquent statement of the human condition. Seamus Heaney certainly knew how to write them.

  2. It is passionate appeal to the destructive factions that have been willing, even keen, to destroy their brethren for so many years. The overt violence has mostly abated but the tensions continue to simmer. Thank goodness you have a candidate for President who cites a poet - in stark contrast to his opponent who can scarcely read a comic book.

    1. Someone who reads and understands the power of poetry would be most welcome as president.

  3. A poetry lover is a good omen! I am ready for a miracle.

    1. We are all ready for a miracle. Let us hope that we are...

      The outcry and the birth-cry

      Of new life at its term.

  4. What power in this poem! Biden chose wisely - or his speechwriter did. Either way, perfect.

    1. It is indeed a poem that seems to particularly fit this moment in history.

  5. This is a great poem, but I am sort of struggling to understand it. Is it about courage?

    1. I would say it is about endurance and the persistence of the human spirit, but it means whatever it means to you.

    2. It's written in relation to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, both sides suffered and the poem is about people being fed up with fighting and dis-trust of the other side, so yes it's finding courage to believe in change and believe that the future can be better as long as you take the leap of faith.

  6. Into my collection of fabulous poems it goes. I am so hoping for a sea-change among our people.

  7. This is a very interesting post. Your information is very important to me. Thanks for sharing.Dry Needling in Ireland


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