This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

RTÉ News celebrates Irish-American winning the presidency with a Seamus Heaney poem recited by Joe Biden

"The Cure at Troy"
by Seamus Heaney 
from an adaptation of Sophocles’ 409 BCE play "Philoctetes"

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 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.

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

Seamus Heaney
The verse is from "The Cure at Troy," Seamus Heaney’s 1990 translation of Philoctetes, the play by Sophocles  (497-407 BCE or 496-407 BCE) about the Greek hero Philoctetes who, during the Trojan war, suffers from a festering foot caused by a snakebite, abandoned on a desert island by his fellow soldiers and countryman, then asked to return to fight. 

The play was first stated in 409 BCE. 

Heaney’s verses were first performed in 1990 and published in 1991. The story of the master Greek archer Philoctetes  resonated with Heaney. 

Heaney said his interpretation of Sophocles's play was a reflection on the release of Nelson Mandela in November 1990 after 27 years in prison who then continued to fight against Apartheid, for racial reconciliation and was lated elected the first Black president of South Africa in 1994.

Joe Biden has used this poem in speeches for years, and used it again in a campaign ads, like this one.

Ulysses and Neoptolemus take Heracles’ bow and arrows from Philoctetes, François-Xavier Fabre, 1799-1800

Philoctetes was the son of King Poeas who first appeared in the story of Heracles' death. Heracles had worn the tainted Shirt of Nessus which gave him insufferable pain. He then proceeded to build his own funeral pyre, but no one would light it up. In the end, Philoctetes stepped up and lit the fire, thus gaining the deified hero's favor. Before his death, Heracles offered him his fabled bow and poisoned arrows as a gift.

Philoctetes was one of the suitors of Helen, the princess of Sparta. Having sworn the Oath of Tyndareus, by which he was bound to protect her and her future husband, whoever that would be, he was asked to participate in the Trojan War. 

On the way to Troy, though, the fleet stopped at the island of Lemnos and left Philoctetes stranded there. There are different accounts on why this happened; some say that Hera had sent a venomous snake to punish Philoctetes for helping Heracles. The snake bit him on the foot and the wound festered and smelled bad, thus compelling his companions to leave him ashore.

Another account says that Philoctetes would not verbally reveal the location of Heracles' ashes as was asked by his fellow Greeks. Instead, he took them to the spot and placed his foot on top. Immediately, he was wounded on the foot as soon as he touched the ground. There are other versions about this, but in any case, Philoctetes was really angry that his comrades decided to strand him, a proposal that had been made by Odysseus. He stayed in Lemnos for 10 years.

When the Greeks captured Helenus, the Trojan seer, he was forced to tell them that in order to capture Troy, one of the requirements was to retrieve the bow and arrows of Heracles, which were in Philoctetes' possession. Odysseus and a few men returned to Lemnos, thinking the man would have died by now. However they found him alive, and Odysseus devised a plan to trick him out of his bow and arrows. 

Nevertheless, Diomedes, one of the companions, refused to take the weapon by trickery and leave Philoctetes stranded. Heracles, who was already a god by now, descended from Olympus and told Philoctetes to join the Greek army, adding that he would be healed permanently by one of Asclepius' sons.

When the party reached Troy, either Machaon or Podalirius, both physicians and sons of the god Asclepius, treated Philoctetes' festered wound, and healed him. In one of the accounts, he was the one who killed Paris, by throwing four arrows against him. He was then chosen as one of the soldiers to go into the Trojan horse and participated in the sack of Troy.