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Poems for human rights - your suggestions please

I've spent the last few hours reading about torture and genocide and it's time to elevate the mind to finer things before bed.

It's National Poetry Day, so I have chosen my favourite human rights poem and reproduced it below for our mutual elevation. It's From the Republic of Conscience by Seamus Heaney, a favourite of mine since school days, with the squat pen resting between my finger and my thumb.

Heaney composed the poem to mark the 25th anniversary of Amnesty International in 1986 and, some years back, I had the good fortune to hear him read it at an event in Dublin.

I hope you enjoy it, but then please – to mark this day of poetry – why not use the comments section to share your favourite poem for human rights?

From the Republic of Conscience
by Seamus Heaney


When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engines stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway

At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather

The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye

No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared


Fog is a dreaded omen there, but lightning
spells universal good and parents hang
swaddled infants in trees during thunder storms

Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater

Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
The hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.

At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office

and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in tears which the sky-god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless


I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs woman
having insisted my allowance was myself

The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen

He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue

Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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