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Human Chain by Seamus Heaney

Human Chain

by Seamus Heaney

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Although I liked many of these poems, I didn't love any of them and was bored by a few. Of the ones I liked, "A Herbal" and "In the Attic" appealed to me the most, with "Derry Derry Down" and "Route 110" close seconds. ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Oct 5, 2013 |
While I adore Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, this was my first attempt at reading his poetry.
There's an air of loss and sadness here, it's as if the poetry is all written in the past tense, with nostalgia for youth and the decay of aging seeming to be the theme of this collection.
Some of it I quite liked, but I'm left with a nagging sensation that I've missed something somewhere along the line. ( )
1 vote Helenliz | Sep 28, 2013 |
“Had I Not Been Awake”

Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore

And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,
Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it,

It came and went so unexpectedly
And almost it seemed dangerously,
Returning like an animal to the house,

A courier blast that there and then
Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
After. And not now.

I love this opening to the latest collection of the Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, Human Chain. These are verses imbued with the memories that have often been the subject and inspiration for his poetry, yet they feel differently than those of his younger self. Viewed now through the losses brought by age, infirmity and death, these reflections are clearly the venue of the older poet.

Heaney uses a deceptively simple language and form that seems a suitable testament to the everyday nature of his subjects, presented in concrete, concise and often masculine imagery. He shares moments that are both foreign to me in their representation of rural Irish life of an earlier age, while still feeling strongly familiar in their universality. I am not qualified to critique poetry, much less that of a Nobel Laureate. So there is nothing I can better do than to let the words speak for themselves.

“Album” witnesses, through the memories of childhood, the strength and partnership of his parents: “Too late, alas, now for the apt quotation / About a love that’s proved by steady gazing / Not at each other but in the same direction (10-12).”

In “The Butts”, memories of the changing relationship between an elderly father and his son are revisited:
And we must learn to reach well in beneath
Each meager armpit
To lift and sponge him,
…………………………………………….. ​
Closer than anybody liked
But having, for all that,
To keep working. (25-27, 31-33)

In “Uncoupled”, the foreshadowing of a father’s death: “Shouting among themselves, and now to him / So that his eyes leave mine and I know / The pain of loss before I know the term (22-24).”

Others are written in memory of friends lost. From “The Door Was Open and the House Was Dark”: “The door was open and the house was dark / Wherefore I called his name, although I knew / The answer this time would be silence (1-3).”

A powerful and highly recommended collection. ( )
4 vote Linda92007 | May 19, 2012 |
This book is about beauty, fragility and the very thereness of things. The poems remind one of what it is to be alive. ( )
  freelancer_frank | Apr 17, 2012 |
I'm not even going to think about calling this a review of Seamus Heaney's latest collection of poems, Human Chain.. It would be incredibly presumptuous on my part to even suggest that I'm going to "evaluate" his work (of course, normally I'm always presumptuous in terms of reviewing!). Instead, I'm going to just relay a few points that I love about this amazing poet, and why you should read him if you haven't already.

For one thing, his writing style is so straightforward and concise. It's not fluffy or ostentatious or full of bizarre allusions that make you feel ignorant for not understanding. Instead, he writes like a reader, with spare words that draw crisp pictures. Yet his poetry does have layers...you can find multiple meanings if you ponder what he says, so they still have depth and are certainly not simplistic at all. In fact, in many ways his simplicity is deceiving.

For example, I recently re-read "Digging", a poem he wrote in 1968 about a man admiring his father's and grandfather's strength as they turned over turf and worked the land in Ireland. He concludes the poem with something along the lines (I'm paraphrasing) that 'I'll have to do the work with my pen'. What initially is a pleasant enough little story (hard work, family, nature) suddenly had a deeper meaning and then, "digging" into it, one could see he was commenting on the struggles of Northern Ireland and showing the violence that was sometimes used to create change in the Republic. He never got pushy or overtly political but you could clearly see that he was sending another message.

So, in reading Human Chain, I was again dazzled by his subtlety. In one poem, "Miracle", he leads the reader into another direction of thought as he reconsiders the Biblical event of Christ healing a lame man:

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks

But the ones who have known him all along

And carry him in-

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked

In their backs, the stretcher handles

Slippery with sweat. And no let-up

Until he's strapped on tight, made tiltable

And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.

Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,

Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity

To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

Here, he's stepped back from a significant event to expand on its effects to those out of the spotlight, observers on the periphery who are also altered, although less obviously. In "Slack", he writes about the repetitive and mundane nature of storing coal for the fire, and shows what the symbolic heat means for the home:

A sullen pile

But soft to the shovel, accommodating

As the clattering coal was not.

In days when life prepared for rainy days

It lay there, slumped and waiting,

To dampen down and lengthen out...

And those words-

"Bank the fire"-

Every bit as solid as

The cindery skull

Formed when its tarry

Coral cooled.

Here he illustrates the fragile balance of life and death as dependent on the existence of the humble coal; and foreshadows what happens when the coal runs out. In that case, the cold shells of the fire appear as "skulls". So is he talking about just a home fire or the flame of one's heart?

Finally, the most poignant of all is "The Butts", where the narrator describes searching through a wardrobe of old suits. He describes how they "swung heavily like waterweed disturbed" as he checks the pockets and finds them full of old cigarette butts, "nothing but chaff cocoons, a paperiness not known again until the last days came". Colors, sounds, even odors are a part of the poem as he leaves you to wonder why he's looking through the clothing. Hinting, but never direct, one senses that Heaney is describing the search for a proper burial suit. For a father?

Throughout the collection, varying dedications for the poems give the sense that Heaney wants to go on record with his past and make the connections that are implied with the title, Human Chain. When I first looked at the cover, I thought it was of trees branches, maybe birch, threading out to tiny tips. Then I was alerted to a possibly different meaning when I saw a microscopic picture of the human circulatory system-the blood channels that look so similar to branches. In either case, Heaney has shown, again, an amazing grasp of the connections and complexity of the human condition. ( )
1 vote BlackSheepDances | Dec 22, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Mr. Heaney’s best gifts can turn against him. The turf smoke can grow dense. A few poems are mere holding patterns. But his authority, in “Human Chain,” is undiminished.
“Human Chain” is far from Heaney’s best book — the short and short-winded sequences rarely smolder like a peat bog afire underground. He’s still good at the character sketches from the Irish hinterlands, the deft evocations of common objects (the evidence of the ordinary bewitches him), the elegies and funerals that increasingly have dominated his work. Troubled by the losses memory is heir to, most moving on his father’s decline and death, the poems are evocations of a life now past.
This beautiful and affecting collection includes Heaney's own not-so-distant brush with death. "Chanson d'Aventure" describes a Sunday afternoon ambulance ride (during which, he reflects, he might have quoted Donne, but was not fit to quote anything). This is followed by "Miracle" which is, on the face of it, a religious salutation to miracle workers, "the ones who have known him all along/ And carry him in". But it also indirectly celebrates the workaday help of everyone good enough to help with a recovery – the human chain.
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For Des and Mary, Peter and Jean
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Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374173516, Hardcover)

A Boston Globe Best Poetry Book of 2011

Seamus Heaney’s new collection elicits continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present—the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is passed from hand to hand, lifted and lowered. Human Chain also broaches larger questions of transmission, of lifelines to the inherited past. There are newly minted versions of anonymous early Irish lyrics, poems that stand at the crossroads of oral and written, and other “hermit songs” that weigh equally in their balance the craft of scribe and the poet’s early calling as scholar. A remarkable sequence entitled “Route 101” plots the descent into the underworld in the Aeneid against single moments in the arc of a life, from a 1950s childhood to the birth of a first grandchild. Other poems display a Virgilian pietas for the dead—friends, neighbors, family—that is yet wholly and movingly vernacular.

Human Chain also includes a poetic “herbal” adapted from the Breton poet Guillevic—lyrics as delicate as ferns, which puzzle briefly over the world of things and landscapes that exclude human speech, while affirming the interconnectedness of phenomena, as of a self-sufficiency in which we too are included

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Heaney's new collection elicits continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present--the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is passed from hand to hand, lifted and lowered.… (more)

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