Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Friday, 6 June 2008 17:38 UK

Parting gifts for Martin's mate

Jim Fitzpatrick
By Jim Fitzpatrick
Politics Show

What's the power of poetry? As a parting gift, Martin McGuinness presented Ian Paisley with a couple of hand-written poems.

Martin McGuinness
Mr McGuinness wrote one of the poems himself

One was a passage from Seamus Heaney's The Cure At Troy in the laureate's own hand; the other was penned by the deputy first minister himself.

The Cure At Troy is an interpretation of Philoctetes, a play written by Sophocles in the fifth century.

It was the West End Hit of its day, winning first prize at the Festival of Dionysus in 409 BC.

The action is set during the Trojan War, but Ian Paisley can rest assured that the events covered predate the infamous arrival of the Trojan Horse.

Bill Clinton quoted Heaney's version with substantial political effect on his visit to Northern Ireland in 1995:

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 words captured the mood of his cheering audience packed into Derry's Guildhall Square and resonated well beyond the walls of the ancient city to the world beyond.

Bill Clinton went on to quote from the poem on many occasions in numerous international locations.

He wrote an election-year book in 1996 entitled "Between Hope and History".

He placed a framed hand-written version, given to him by Heaney, on his Oval office wall. And he now lists The Cure At Troy as one of his favourite books.

So we can safely say that the poem had a powerful impact on Bill Clinton. And as the most powerful man in the world at the time, we can also assume that its impact was truly global.

So, what the chances of Heaney grabbing Paisley in the same way? Perhaps Heaney's poem is now too closely associated with the Good Friday Agreement era and the man they once called Dr No will be more moved by the musings of Martin McGuinness.

His poem, Breac Gheal, explores concerns over attacks on Native American culture and the disappearance of the silver trout from Irish waters.

The lilac creature lay silent and unmoving

As the peaty water flowed over the last of the Mohicans.

Stones were the wigwam in a Donegal river

For a decimated breed of free spirits.

Tribes and shoals disappeared as we polluted and devoured

With our greed and stupidity the homeland of the brave.

We didn't learn if Mr Paisley had returned the gesture with a parting gift for Mr McGuinness.

He gave Bertie Ahern an early copy of the King James Bible when they last met at the Boyne, a book that certainly qualifies as powerful poetry.

Ian Paisley
Mr Paisley recently gave Bertie Ahern a copy of the King James Bible

In the past Ian Paisley has mentioned Kipling's "If" as his favourite poem.

Might the Irish republican's hand-written verse now hang beside that of the British Imperialist in Mr Paisley's private study?

And if it does, does it matter? Enough musings for now.

On The Politics Show we eschew literary language in favour of hard-nosed debate. Mark Durkan and Reg Empey join me in the studio protesting in perfect prose about the conduct of their Executive colleages and, rather appropriately, Rosy investigates the politics of language.

As I once wrote myself, reflecting on the benefits of good journalism:

Wine lakes of language leave me drunk;

Warm whiskey with ice, my thirst doth quench.

I don't think either the tee-total Paisley, or occasional drinker McGuinness, would hang my little haiku on their walls.

See you Sunday


PS - Gerry Adams chose Shakespeare in his tribute to Ian Paisley. But it was a strange choice. He inverted the opening line of Mark Anthony's famous speech from the play Julius Caesar by telling the Assembly chamber that "we come to praise Caesar, not to bury him." If Mr Adams knows his Shakespeare then he will also know that the original is as follows: "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones, so let it be with Caesar." And that's before anyone even mentions Brutus.

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