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Joe Biden picks Seamus Heaney to add to his appeal

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Presidential frontrunner quotes Irish wordsmith in his nomination acceptance speech

Joe Biden is not the first nor is he likely to be the last politician to summon political spirits with poetry, but choosing verse from The Cure at Troy, Seamus Heaney’s free translation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, for his Democratic party nomination acceptance speech on Thursday had scholars of the poet’s work and the political class eating out of his hand.

Biden pulled out Heaney’s lines close to the end of an address that also won over conservative pundits and Fox Newsanchors– “an enormously effective speech”, said Chris Wallace – and left Donald Trump, for once, without response on Twitter. Biden quoted Heaney saying: “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.”

The passage Joe Biden quoted is spoken by a chorus. It’s not just one person, but a whole collection coming in and instructing people to hope in a great sea-change

Related: Seamus Heaney’s words heal wounds reopened on Ireland’s border

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