the republic of conscience

At Campus Compact’s 20th anniversary, Mary Robinson gave the keynote address. She is a distinguished lawyer, former President of Ireland, and former UN Commissioner of Human Rights. At one point, in her soft Irish accent, she read Seamus Heaney’s “The Republic of Conscience,” a poem that he has now given to Amnesty International. Read all 39 lines, but this is how it starts:

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.

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