The new Holy Trinity of Irish-American relations is Biden-Heaney-Yeats. To wit:
“President Biden has never hidden his enthusiasm for Irish poetry. Reciting W.B. Yeats’s poetry helped him overcome a childhood stutter. In the latter part of the campaign, he released a video of his stellar reading of Seamus Heaney’s powerful poem, The Cure at Troy, with its brilliant phrase about making ‘hope and history rhyme’.” — Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall on The Inauguration of President Biden.
“In some of his most important speeches over the course of a long career, Joe Biden has repeatedly quoted the work of Seamus Heaney, an Irish, Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright. … He’s also a fan of William Butler Yeats, dating back to the days when he used to recite Yeats’ words in the mirror, working to overcome his stutter.” — Town & Country
“In his four decades-long career from a Senator in Delaware to the man at the helm of affairs at the Democratic party, Mr Biden earned a reputation of peppering his speeches with Heaney and his contemporary, WB Yeats.” — The U.K. Independent
There are more examples. Biden’s Jan. 20 inaugural address1 only lightly evoked the Heaney line as he described “a day of history and hope.” He did not directly quote either Irish poet. Instead, Biden quoted from the song American Anthem, written by songwriter Gene Scheer and first sung by Denyce Graves in 1998 for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at a Smithsonian Institution event. It was subsequently performed at other ceremonies, covered by Patti Labelle, and sung by Graves at George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration, says Variety.
Biden became only the fourth U.S. president to invite a poet to join his inauguration platform, following John F. Kennedy (1961), Clinton (1993, 1997) and Barack Obama (2009, 2013), The Week reports. Biden’s inaugural committee selected 22-year-old Amanda Gorman to read her poem The Hill We Climb, which drew wide praise. Watch it here.
Heaney died in 2013, while Biden was Obama’s vice president. Heaney lived part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006, including time as Harvard’s poet in residence. American poet Robert Lowell described him as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Last summer, when Biden accepted the Democratic nomination, The Washington Post detailed the candidate’s citations of The Cure at Troy.
Yeats, who died in 1939, visited America in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, 1920, and 1932/33. Cumulatively, he spent more than a year of his life in the United States, according to the Embassy of Ireland, USA. Washington, D.C. trial lawyer and literary critic Joseph M. Hassett has just published his third book about the poet, Yeats Now: Echoing into Life. By focusing on Yeats’s most memorable lines of poetry, it reveals new ways of enjoying a body of work that speaks eloquently and urgently to the 21st century, the publisher says.
On Jan. 27, Solas Nua, the D.C.-based contemporary Irish arts organization, and New York University, will present an experimental non-narrative film-poem drawing on the life of Yeats and using only his writings. Click here for more information and free registration.