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on 28 August 2011
Human chain is a poetry collection defined by memory, death and sadness, the recollection of thought that burdens a mind but also sets it free.

In "had I not been awake" Heany remembers a gust of wind that rattles the house.. The surge of adrenalin that had him " alive and ticking like an electric fence". A poem that defines a personal memory but also gets the reader to think about the fickleness of time and how random moments can be stored in the mind..

"uncoupled" is a journey in to grief and loss, a snap shot of "where were you when you heard the news" that shadow the big events not only in world history but in our personal lives. "I know the pain of loss before I know the term"

"the Butts" deals with the pain of peoples material belongings and what memories they invoke and has the haunting imagery of death and frailty attached to every day objects...

"the wood road" ask the questions I anything can change? Can anything turn over a new leaf and with a new image start again? Can the newly resurfaced wood road become new again and wipe away the death and agony caused on its asphalt strip? The young dead child smoothed over in to the gravel. Heaney asks dark questions which leave a burning imprint as to the nature of the human soul

Human Chain is a remarkable collection of poems that explore the anguish and torment caused by loss and death and the decline of the human body. Although the poems give an air of inevitability to human life their is a consolation in the form of the redeeming and healing properties of memory and that whilst something is still remembered it can never truly be forgotten.

Heaney is able to use his past memories as a sounding board for today. In "slack" he draws on the memory of coal, the sounds it made when delivered and put down the shoot and the likening of it in the rain to catharsis, a purgation of the body. The imagery is striking and not only resonant with the present day but it also draws on the pastoral gentler times like eel fishing and agricultural work. There is a fantastic juxtaposition between the "better days" of youth and the pain and suffering of today.
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on 17 May 2017
Poets are not like other people - in that they sometimes get better as they get older. It happened with Yeats (who is said to have gone up to a new level at age 55) and Seamus Heaney shows her that it happened with him. He can write a poem about the after effects of a stroke and it is strikingly beautiful, becoming a kind of love story because his wife is with him. As his 12th and last volume of poetry, Human Chain does have strong themes of mortality in it. But it is very original and uplifting. I felt sad to wish Seamus goodbye with the last poem (written for his grand-daughter) but I felt more alive after reading this wonderful collection.
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on 17 November 2010
Seamus Heaney is a rare and generous writer because his work leaves you enriched not drained. He is a writer of the old school who always offers something new. For him, writing is a craft and a gift, never a copy. You can read his poems knowing there is not a single line that is fake. The Human Chain bears the hallmark of authenticity, fresh and glistening amid all the staleness. In a world of mass communication where so many are shouting to be heard, Heaney need not even raise his voice.
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on 22 December 2010
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.
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on 13 February 2014
Love Seamus Heaney poems, such meaning and understanding. This book is just as enjoyable as all his poetry books.
Highly recommended to everyone.!
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on 10 December 2013
Such beautiful gems - great brightly coloured high contrast images. I am done but need ten more words to post.
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on 26 July 2011
Human Chain is Seamus Heaney's twentieth collection of poems and I must admit that I have only read two of his collections. He has won many awards including the Nobel prize and I have heard some commentators say he is probably the greatest living poet writing in English. I must be missing something. I don't know if it is a cultural gap but whilst I admire the writing I am afraid that I find the content of this collection too narrow and insular. It seems to me that he lacks that universal appeal of most, if not all, of the great writers.

Most of poems in Human Chain are delivered in blank triplet verse. Although Heaney sometimes makes use of Latin phrases, the diction in most of the poems is simple and straight forward. There are not many flourishes of rhetoric language - not necessarily a weakness. Rhythmically, in the main, the short lines have a staccato detached feel from each other, giving some of the poems a deeply personal feel.

The poems in this collection are tightly condensed and concise. Just when one thinks that one has grasped or eked out a meaning some of the poems take a turn and becomes illusory. So take the title poem, Human Chain, one is intrigued by its allusion to addressing human suffering but one must be equally struck by how that act of kindness is over shadowed by the focus on the narrator's action of: "With a grip on two sack corners,/Two packed wads of grain I'd worked to lugs/To give me purchase ready for the heave" - and on it continues in that self centred vein.

Some of the poems that stood out for me were: "The Conway Steward", where the action in the use of a pen is used to demonstrate the parting or leave taking from someone known or loved. Another was "Uncoupled" a lovely poem about family ties and "The Butts" a poem that sees the narrator delving back into the past to a place called the The Butts, making family connections through things: someone's suit, the smell of clothes and a nice twist in the poem about cleaning someone properly, perhaps an elderly relative.

An interesting collection of poems - yes. But on the whole too narrow in its scope to fully engage me.
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on 22 November 2015
A fitting last volume of poems by a great poet. As might be expected of a last volume, it makes most sense in the context of his other work.
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on 19 October 2015
Beautiful limited edition of Seamus Heaney's last collection, Human Chain.
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on 15 August 2014
Wonderful book of reflection and revisiting. outstanding poetry
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