© By Michael Longley
Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.
Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.
When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:
I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.
Poem included with the permission of Michael Longley and his publisher Jonathan Cape
Michael Longley wrote this poem, evoking the painful reconciliation of those who must make peace, hoping that he might influence doubters on the IRA army council. He says he believes poetry does make things happen. And he wrote: “When I published my poem Ceasefire in the Irish Times I got a letter from the father of Paul Maxwell, the sixteen-year-old boy who had been blown up with Lord Mountbatten. Those letters matter more to me than any amount of criticism I might receive in literary journals or attention in the public world.”