Beau Biden's death and the poetry of public condolences

Joe Biden and his son Beau in 2008
(Image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On Saturday night, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III died from brain cancer. Vice President Joe Biden and a close circle of friends and family had been quietly preparing for the death, but most people were caught by surprise. "In a town where few events ever truly break through the thick layer of partisanship," said Michael Shear at The New York Times, Beau Biden's death, at age 46, "unleashed an outpouring of sorrow."

The condolences came from all over: from top Democrats and high-profile Republicans, and from people with less of an obvious connection to the Biden family, like Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney. President Obama, who canceled a reception Sunday to mourn with the Biden family, reached for poetry, quoting William Butler Yeats on how believing "the best of every man," as Beau Biden did, "is enough to make a bad man show him at his best or even a good man swing his lantern higher."

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