Michael Longley, “Ceasefire”

Northern Irish poet Michael Longley, born in Belfast in 1939 to a Protestant family, first published “Ceasefire” in an Irish newspaper just a day before the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Longley distances the immediacy of the Troubles in this poem by imagining a scene from Homer’s Iliad, particularly the moment of reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles after the slaying of Hector.

 

Ceasefire >> note 1

I

Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.

II

Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.

III

When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:

IV

‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’

 

1994


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