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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, straightforward, powerful, December 21, 2010
This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Hardcover)
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.

(Rec'd from publisher for review: however, receipt does not influence contents of review)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Or it will, once. And for all., May 29, 2013
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Paperback)
The title poem, "The Human Chain," begins with .."bags of meal passed hand to hand in close-up by the aid workers, and soldiers firing over the mob." It concludes, catching our heart-strings with gratitude and sorrow,

"That quick unburdening, backbreak's truest payback,
A letting go which will not come again.
Or it will, once. And for all."

These 25 poems, mostly lyrics, draw on incidents in the long arc of Seamus Heaney's life and the trajectory of his reading: Norse, Greek, Irish. Like much of the poetry that has made Heaney, scholar, bard, and senachie, the power comes not from the incidents observed (although Eelworks leaps off the page), but the meanings embedded in them, water diamonds across the wide bay.

Listen:

"As I age and blank on names
As my uncertainty on stairs
Is more and more the lightheadedness

Of a cabin boy's first time on the rigging,
As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable

It's not that I can't imagine still
That still untoward rupture and world-tilt
As a wind freshened and the anchor weighted."

Outward bound, Heaney's word-hoard is brighter and greater than ever Beowulf won, and his humanity a part of the human chain, l'dor v'dor. An enormous value at the Amazon price, this is a book to buy if one can at all, for oneself: to read aloud, to catch the changing colours, to cherish. And to give to those at dawn, nooning, and twilight.

I found nothing to critize: a beautifully designed book, such as Columcille might hold with pleasure, and place in the book bags on his shelf.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taking Stock, June 16, 2011
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Hardcover)
If you know Seamus Heaney, this collection, with its gentle surface concealing tense depths, will probably not surprise you. I mean that in the best possible way. Heaney's approach to observation, noting ekphrastic detail that reveals a core of loss and grief, serves him so well because it tells his story while touching our spirits. We treasure existence, as Heaney, because it ends. Consider these lines from "A Herbal":

Between heather and marigold,
Between sphagnum and buttercup,
Between dandelion and broom,
Between forget-me-not and honeysuckle,

As between clear blue and cloud,
Between haystack and sunset sky,
Between oak tree and slated roof,

I had my existence. I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.

This is a man coming to terms. Notice the past tense. Throughout the book, there's a sense of wistfulness, of realization that what now exists cannot be forever, and that all life's good gifts must end. Poems like "Uncoupled," "Canopy," and "Route 110" bespeak a man looking backward across the span of years.

But he's not merely melancholy. There's also an innate maturity. "The Conway Stewart," about a fountain pen, feels like a deliberate reference to "Digging," the first poem in his first collection (and now the first poem in Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996). That one had the false bravado of Heaney holding a pen "snug as a gun." This new poem feels like recognition that such swaggering machismo doesn't date well; now a pen is a pen, and a poet's connection to the world.

And we even get a sense of Heaney looking forward. Verses like "A Miracle" and "Wraiths" feel like a man taking stock of life, not because he sees it ending, but because he still has work to do while he's here. And the closing poem, "A Kite For Aibhín," features a kite cut loose and setting off for the heavens--a metaphor for the poet if I've ever seen one.

Heaney has remained at the top of the poetry game for so long because his introspective honesty, stated well but not prettified, speaks to a universal need. This collection forms the next fork in his artistic path. Established Heaney fans, new readers, and people who just love poetry will find much to like between these covers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Poetry, January 27, 2014
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Paperback)
I read the book from front to end and thoroughly enjoyed it. Once that I will read again and again for piety is just that way. Heaney is a 'Big Star' in the world of poetry, espeially Irish poetry. I ended up buying TEN of these books so that I could give them away to friends who love poetry, I think that is a testimony in itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everyone will find something to like., October 3, 2013
By 
Lyle Lauber (Squaw Lake, MN USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Paperback)
I liked it because the book contained a variety of his poems spread over time and life issues, thus making his poetry more meaningful to a variety of people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This last Seamus Heaney is important, October 20, 2013
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Paperback)
Only 85 pages, the last poems Heaney published before he died — too young at only 74 , If you have loved Heaney, you should have this small collection.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Human chain, September 22, 2013
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This review is from: Human Chain (Kindle Edition)
This very good book by Seamus Heaney is a gift.
Poems that teach you the taste of life and its nuances!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great work from one of the best, November 19, 2013
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Paperback)
I love everything by Seamus Heaney and this was no different. He was a master. May he rest in peace. This collection is small, similar to North and evokes the interconnectedness that is at the heart of all things Celtic. As an American of Irish descent I loved how it reminded me of our ancestral connections to the past as well as our connections to now. Beautiful - whether your are Irish or not.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, May 11, 2014
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Paperback)
He was/is an amazing, insightful poet - not pretentious, not evasive, but honest, sometimes stunning in his portraits and observations. Seamus Heaney's poetry is a must for any complete library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars HEANEY WAS A MASTER POET, May 9, 2014
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This review is from: Human Chain: Poems (Paperback)
Loved his subject matter and getting to the heart of the matter. I wish I had this book on audio so the nuances in his voice could be heard.
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Human Chain: Poems
Human Chain: Poems by Seamus Heaney (Paperback - August 30, 2011)
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