Jan 21, 2013 Closing Chorus from “The Cure at Troy”

Dear readers,

Thanks for bearing with us through that accidental 4-week hiatus. Away from a computer, busy, distracted, traveling–these are my excuses. But as long ago as December I’d realized that in the weeks following a horrific shooting, I’d missed a chance to put poetry to one if its other uses: healing. On the radio this week some folks were talking about MLK day and some of his speeches, and someone said, “He believed, to borrow a phrase, in a future where hope and history rhyme.” I didn’t know that phrase was so famous, but one hears reference to it every now and then. It’s a line from Seamus Heaney’s long verse re-telling of the Greek myth of Philoctetes, a character in The Iliad, which he titled “The Cure at Troy.” (first published by the Field Day Theatre Company in 1990). A critic at the time called it a “purifying play,” and it’s a story of personal morality amid encompassing carnage. The lines below, an excerpt, are among the most-quoted from the heavily-quoted Heaney, and I hope they will offer you some perspective or optimism in these days of new years and new beginnings. -ed.


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 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.

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