Posted: June 9, 2015
THE POETRY OF JOE BIDEN
By Celia Cohen
Joe Biden is given to poetry the same way he is given to public life.
It comes from a wellspring inside, the lyrical soul in him turning to poetry at times of great moment for inspiration and for solace.
Biden is best known, naturally enough, for his love of Irish poets, most notably the sublime works of Seamus Heaney, and through the years he has drolly parried the suspicion that he quotes Irish poets because his mother was Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Finnegan Biden.
"That's not the reason I do it. I quote Irish poets because they're the best poets," Biden has quipped. It would always get a laugh.
In crisis, though, Biden has looked across the Irish Sea to England. There his touchstone is Will Shakespeare, the Great Bard.
He did it for Neilia. He did it for Beau.
The inscription on the cemetery marker at Saint Joseph on the Brandywine for Neilia, the young wife lost to the car crash at Christmastime 1972, is a rendering from "Romeo and Juliet":
Death lies upon her like an early frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field
For Beau, the hurly-burly of politics was immediately removed from his personal Web site and replaced with lines from "Hamlet":
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again
With Shakespeare's words, Joe Biden laced Neilia and Beau to one another for eternity.
Joe Biden has found his poetry in all sorts of places. His faith gave him a Bible verse from Ezekiel to memorialize Amy, the nickname of little Naomi, who was laid to rest with his wife:
As is the mother, so is the daughter
Similarly, religious lyrics were woven into Biden's slapdash first presidential campaign, the one that collapsed for the 1988 nomination. He regularly quoted from "On Eagle's Wings," the Communion hymn that was also part of the Mass for Beau.
"Asking, for the country that we love," Biden would say as he campaigned, "the fulfillment of the promise proclaimed in the Communion hymn that I have recited across the land, that He will raise America up on eagle's wings, and bear it on the breath of dawn, and make the sun shine on it."
Biden did not shun American poets -- he borrowed from Robert Frost to title his 2007 memoir Promises to Keep -- but above all else, he has channeled Seamus Heaney.
Since the run-up to the 2008 presidential campaign that ultimately made him the vice president, Biden has often quoted the hauntingly desperate promise from Heaney's "The Cure at Troy."
Typically it is just a little -- Once in a lifetime/The longed-for tidal wave/Of justice can rise up/And hope and history rhyme -- but on occasion he goes longer:
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.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge . . .
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.
Such is the poetry of Joe Biden. He did not get his miracle for Beau. He did not get a cure. For himself, over time, maybe he can find healing wells.