|The Burial at Thebes
a version of Sophocles Antigone
Copyright © 2004 by Seamus Heaney
[...] 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 youll be with longest.
And how are you going to face them,
Ismene, if you dishonour
Their laws and the gods law?
[...] If Creon has me killed,
Wheres the disgrace in that?
The disgrace would be to avoid it.
[...] 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.
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.
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?
Well wait and see. The bigger the resistance
The bigger the collapse.
Iron thats forged the hardest
Snaps the quickest. Wild she may well be
But even the wildest horses come to heel
When theyre reined and bitted right.
Are just not made for insubordination.
Religion dictates the burial of the dead.
Dictates the same for loyal and disloyal?
Who knows what loyalty is in the underworld?
Even there, Id know my enemy.
And I would know my friend. Where I assist
With love, you set at odds.
But now Im with you. I want to throw myself
Like a lifeline to you in your sea of troubles.
Too late, my sister. You chose a safe line first.
The dead and Hades know who did this deed.
Antigone, dont rob me of all honour.
Let me die with you and act right by the dead.
You cant just pluck your honor off a bush
You didnt plant. You forfeited your right.
Nobody can be sure theyre always right.
The ones who are fullest of themselves that way
Are the emptiest vessels. Theres no shame
In taking good advice.
Its a sign of wisdom.
If a river floods
The trees on the bank that bend to it survive.
If a skipper doesnt slacken sail in storm
His whole crew ends up clinging to the keel.
So. Swallow pride and anger. Allow yourself
Im young, I know, but I offer you this thought:
All of us would like to have been born
Infallible, but since we know we werent,
Its better to attend to those who speak
In honesty and good faith, and learn from them.
On my side, but always going against me?
Not against you. Against your going wrong.
Am I wrong to wield the powers vested in me?
Do they give you rights to disregard the gods?
Love that cant 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.
Consider well, my son. All men make mistakes.
But mistakes dont have to be forever.
They can be admitted and atoned for.
Its the overbearing man who is to blame.
text checked (see note) Jul 2012