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Human Chain: Poems by Seamus Heaney (Excerpt)

Human Chain: Poems by Seamus Heaney (Excerpt)

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4.15

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WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE

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.

http://www.fsgpoetry.com/

Excerpted from HUMAN CHAIN: Poems by Seamus Heaney. Published in September 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Seamus Heaney. All rights reserved.
WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE

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.

http://www.fsgpoetry.com/

Excerpted from HUMAN CHAIN: Poems by Seamus Heaney. Published in September 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Seamus Heaney. All rights reserved.

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Publish date: Sep 14, 2010
Added to Scribd: Mar 31, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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08/21/2013

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3
“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 sycamoreAnd 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 thenLapsed ordinary. But not everAfter. And not now.
 
17
HUMAN CHAIN
FOR TERENCE BROWN
Seeing the bags of meal passed hand to handIn close-up by the aid workers, and soldiersFiring over the mob, I was braced againWith a grip on two sack corners,Two packed wads of grain I’d worked to lugsTo give me purchase, ready for the heave—The eye-to-eye, one-two, one-two upswingOn to the trailer, then the stoop and drag and drainOf the next lift. Nothing surpassedThat quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,A letting go which will not come again.Or it will, once. And for all.

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freelancer_frank reviewed this
Rated 5/5
This book is about beauty, fragility and the very thereness of things. The poems remind one of what it is to be alive.
blacksheepdances reviewed this
Rated 5/5
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 walksBut the ones who have known him all alongAnd carry him in-Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplockedIn their backs, the stretcher handlesSlippery with sweat. And no let-upUntil he's strapped on tight, made tiltableAnd raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.Be mindful of them as they stand and waitFor the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,Their slight lightheadedness and incredulityTo 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 pileBut soft to the shovel, accommodatingAs the clattering coal was not.In days when life prepared for rainy daysIt 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 tarryCoral 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.
g026r reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Seamus Heaney's latest is, overall, a mixed bag.The usual, stereotypical Heaney subjects are present: childhood in Northern Ireland, memorials of people long gone (often due to sectarian violence), the Irish landscape, but all these come across as a bit perfunctory. There's nothing new in them, no great well-swelling of feeling that wasn't there before, that perhaps wasn't expressed more movingly or eloquently.The volume only really hits its stride when he moves on to eulogizing the more recently departed, to his own advancing age and his recent-ish stroke. Then the emotion breaks through: sad, weary, even tired, but all the same with a greater feeling of authenticity.
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