Over the past two months, several people sent me this Seamus Heaney poem from “The Cure at Troy” his version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes written in the fifth century BC.  It seemed somehow not yet quite right for the moment — in the early days of coronavirus — so I put it aside to wait until it resonated POWERFULLY.  It does now, as though Heaney wrote it for this exact time as we navigate a mighty sea-change.

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.

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 farther 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 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.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.


That Heaney wrote it in 1991, as a modern echo of Sophocle’s words from the fifth century BC, puts our current upheavals into far greater context.  Can we change our long-set patterns?


Here is the ancient Heaney’s reading:


With thanks to Susan Dworski and David Saltman for throwing the poem over my transom.


Related posts:

Awaken The ‘Skylike Nature Of The Mind’ (Parking Lot Tree)

Sea Change Can Be Contagious (Susan Dworski, W.S. Merwin)

What Lobsters Teach Us About Stress + Change


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