from
The Burial at Thebes
a version of Sophocles’ Antigone
by

Seamus Heaney

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The Burial at Thebes

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classical Greek writers

poetry

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The Burial at Thebes
a version of Sophocles’ Antigone

Copyright © 2004 by Seamus Heaney

Antigone:

[...] The land of the living, sister,

Is neither here nor there.

We enter it and we leave it.

The dead in the land of the dead

Are the ones you’ll be with longest.

And how are you going to face them,

Ismene, if you dishonour

Their laws and the gods’ law?

Topic:

The Afterlife

Antigone:

[...] If Creon has me killed,

Where’s the disgrace in that?

The disgrace would be to avoid it.

Creon:

[...] For a good while now I have had reports

Of disaffected elements at work here,

A certain poisonous minority

Unready to admit the rule of law

And my law in particular.

I know

These people and how they operate.

Maybe they are not

The actual perpetrators, but they possess

The means to bribe their way.

Money has a long and sinister reach.

It slips into the system, changes hands

And starts to eat away at the foundations

Of everything we stand for.

Money brings down leaders,

Warps minds and generally corrupts

People and institutions.

Antigone:

I disobeyed because the law was not

The law of Zeus nor the law ordained

By Justice, Justice dwelling deep

Among the gods of the dead. What they decree

Is immemorial and binding for us all.

The proclamation had your force behind it

But it was mortal force, and I, also a mortal,

I chose to disregard it. I abide

By statutes utter and immutable—

Unwritten, original, god-given laws.

Was I going to humour you, or honour gods?

Fitts and Fitzgerald
translation

Creon:

We’ll wait and see. The bigger the resistance

The bigger the collapse.

Iron that’s forged the hardest

Snaps the quickest. Wild she may well be

But even the wildest horses come to heel

When they’re reined and bitted right.

Subordinates

Are just not made for insubordination.

Antigone:

Religion dictates the burial of the dead.

Creon:

Dictates the same for loyal and disloyal?

Antigone:

Who knows what loyalty is in the underworld?

Creon:

Even there, I’d know my enemy.

Antigone:

And I would know my friend. Where I assist

With love, you set at odds.

Ismene:

But now I’m with you. I want to throw myself

Like a lifeline to you in your sea of troubles.

Antigone:

Too late, my sister. You chose a safe line first.

The dead and Hades know who did this deed.

Ismene:

Antigone, don’t rob me of all honour.

Let me die with you and act right by the dead.

Antigone:

You can’t just pluck your honor off a bush

You didn’t plant. You forfeited your right.

Haemon:

[...] Nobody,

Nobody can be sure they’re always right.

The ones who are fullest of themselves that way

Are the emptiest vessels. There’s no shame

In taking good advice.

It’s a sign of wisdom.

If a river floods

The trees on the bank that bend to it survive.

If a skipper doesn’t slacken sail in storm

His whole crew ends up clinging to the keel.

So. Swallow pride and anger. Allow yourself

To change.

I’m young, I know, but I offer you this thought:

All of us would like to have been born

Infallible, but since we know we weren’t,

It’s better to attend to those who speak

In honesty and good faith, and learn from them.

Fitts and Fitzgerald
translation

Creon:

On my side, but always going against me?

Haemon:

Not against you. Against your going wrong.

Creon:

Am I wrong to wield the powers vested in me?

Haemon:

Do they give you rights to disregard the gods?

Chorus:

Love that can’t be withstood,

Love that scatters fortunes,

Love like a green fern shading

The cheek of a sleeping girl.

Love like spume off a wave

Or turf smoke in the air,

Love, you wield your power

Over mortal and immortal

And you put them mad.

Topic:

Love

Tiresias:

[...]

Consider well, my son. All men make mistakes.

But mistakes don’t have to be forever.

They can be admitted and atoned for.

It’s the overbearing man who is to blame.

Fitts and Fitzgerald
translation

text checked (see note) Jul 2012

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