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Why world leaders love to quote poetry

President Biden quoted WB Yeats in Suffolk last week. Bettmann/Joe Giddens/Getty Images

Politicians love poetry, says Finn McRedmond in The Irish Times. Before the G7 summit, Joe Biden was accused of subtly pledging his allegiance to Northern Ireland after he quoted WB Yeats’s poem Easter, 1916 at an RAF base in Suffolk: “The world has changed, changed utterly/A terrible beauty has been born.” Bill Clinton was the same, trotting out Seamus Heaney verses on a visit to Derry in 1995. Boris Johnson routinely recites swathes of The Iliad from memory, in ancient Greek – “a party trick that manages to surprise and alienate all at once”. And Jeremy Corbyn pinched a line from Shelley for a campaign slogan, “For the many, not the few”.

At its best, poetry can “inspire and light up a whole movement”. At its worst, it’s “a vehicle for status signalling”. But if poetry is the best words in the best order, everyday political discourse is the “exact inverse”. While we don’t want to end up having “to leaf through a dictionary to understand what our politicians are telling us”, the odd quote might spruce up an otherwise dull speech. Most diplomacy is crushingly banal. “It could benefit from a bit of lyrical flair.” 

Read the full article here.