Biden Rhapsodizes on Arab Revolutions: ‘A Terrible Beauty Is Born’

Terence P. Jeffrey | December 6, 2011 | 11:59am EST
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Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on Dec. 3, 2011. (AP Photo)

( - Speaking at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden offered high praise for the revolutions that have broken out in the Arab world this year.

Biden likened the Arab uprisings to the American revolution and at one point described them by quoting Easter 1916, a poem that was written by William Butler Yeats as he reflected on the Irish Rising against the British that took place during World War I.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there is a quote I often use--and if you excuse me for quoting an Irish poet--I quoted this to the speaker when we had breakfast,” said Biden.

“It was an Irish poet named William Butler Yeats, who describing the transition taking place in his Ireland in 1916, wrote a poem that had the following line in it, a line that was intended to describe his Ireland at the moment," said Biden. "But I would respectfully suggest it describes the Middle East and the world today even better than it described his country at the moment. And here’s the line from that poem. He said, ‘All has changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born.’”

In the same speech in Istanbul, Biden said that the Arab revolutions have been “literally imbued with entrepreneurial spirit” and are “inspired by the same desire for freedom” as the American Revolution.

“I suspect that many of you assembled here in this magnificent hall today, whether or not you’ve ever been politically active, felt some of the same affinity that many of us felt for those in the streets who were seeking to build something far larger than just something for themselves,” Biden said.

“That’s because democratic revolutions like the ones in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya--and the ones still unfolding in Syria and Yemen--are imbued, literally imbued with entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit that requires risk and initiative, steadfast determination, and a unifying idea,” said Biden.

“The revolution that gave birth to my own country was inspired by the same desire for freedom and ensured that from its earliest days America has been hard-wired for innovation,” said Biden. “Back then, it was pamphleteers like Thomas Paine. Today, it’s modern new technologies that connect us in an instant.”

On April 24, 1916, the day after Easter, an Irish insurgency seeking Irish independence from Great Britain seized some buildings in Dublin. The British military took them back. According to a BBC account of the event, the Easter Rising resulted in 450 people being killed.

The British executed some of the leaders of the rebellion and Yeats wrote a poem commemorating four of them. The poem ends:

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

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