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Human Chain

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  553 ratings  ·  84 reviews
A Boston Globe Best Poetry Book of 2011
Winner of the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize
Winner of the 2011 Poetry Now Award

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
Hardcover, 85 pages
Published September 14th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published September 2nd 2010)
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Heaney’s poems in this latest volume of his work are mostly short and spare, yet they are nonetheless rich, personal, and evocative. Returning to his work after an absence seems like coming home, the sense that he is familiar even as he is fresh, the sense that his small life experiences resonate with my own, even when they are not identical.

“Had I Not Been Awake” is all about awareness, alertness to what is, in this moment. And that makes all the difference. The pattering of leaves, the poet a-
James Murphy
Seamus Heaney's human chain is busy with the connections of family relationships and acquaintances reaching into the past, alive with the tingle personal recollection gives them. These are poems about the chain of being and about how we're all linked. Almost all of them recall a family member or someone Heaney has known. Frequently they're identified by name. These poems aren't particularly lyrical, and that, plus the reader's unfamiliarity with the poet's personal association, lends them an ext ...more
Chris Lilly
Just exquisite. Just lovely. Poems about lost family and mortality, made more poignant by Heaney's recent death, so that the fore-shadowing bites harder. Lots of Irish Gaelic, echoes of the language of his homeland, but such music!
I am awe-struck in the presence of such great poetry written by such a masterful wielder of words. The literal and figurative chains in this book are multifarious: metal links, plant fibers, threaded stitches, hands held in other hands, the living lifting the dying, work assembly lines, pens & pencils, hyphenated word-loads, languages joined through translation, loops of recorded sound ... As well as personal life enacted, remembered, forgotten, exhumed, re-imagined ... As well as books them ...more
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
I should tell you that I ran across Seamus Heaney in my 20s in the late seventies when I was living in Los Angeles. I discovered a poem published in a mainstream woman's magazine about 'the troubles'. I fell in love with his poetic voice instantly. I suppose it would not be an exaggeration to say, I very firmly placed him upon a lofty pedestal.

This latest book of poetry has the same mastery of language, the same lyrical quality, but it made me quite sad. I feel older after having read these poem
Billy O'Callaghan
Though I'd probably put it a rank below his very best work, I have no hesitation in saying that I enjoyed 'Human Chain' more than any Heaney collection since 'The Haw Lantern'. Typically layered, richly allusive and ripe with snatched memories, held connections and a deep sense of mortality, it's a beautiful closing chapter to what has been a magnificent story. Reading these poems aloud - a few of which surely stand with the finest he's written - they seem to move the air, and his relentlessly r ...more
I very much enjoyed reading Heaney's descriptions which led me to images which brought up emotions. (No, this isn't a philosophical discussion of language.). Most of the poems in this book worked extremely well for me in this sense.

Unfortunately, or not, I can't go into detail because the book has utterly disappeared. It is somewhere in this room, lost in a pile perhaps, continuing to put forth its images to no one.

Human Chain, by Seamus Heaney, 2010. This book from Heaney, a truly great poet, is his last book of poems. Some of the first poems in it – “Had I not been awake”, “Album”, and “Uncoupled”, are alive with Heaney-esque images and insights. Each time I’ve read the first of these, I have gotten more out of it. But many of the poems are so filled with personal references (people he knew, place names) and literary references in four languages that it’s a struggle to get Heaney’s meaning from them. I f ...more
Re-reading this, for the first time since Heaney's death, was a strange experience: ever-conscious that there was no more work to come, I found myself slowing down, not wanting it to end. But of course everything must.

All the Heaney trademarks are here for me: the perfect weight of words, the telling details, the parallels and changing angles of vision that bring a new perspective. And always, here, the sense that in his post-stroke condition he was taking stock, aware of the dark coming in. The
What? I'm going to give a Seamus Heaney poetry collection less than four stars? I don't think so.

Seriously though, the fact is a lot of Heaney's references are lost on me (providing yet another instance of the book being smarter than the reader). That said (and much like Shakespeare), hearing Heaney's poems read aloud often adds clues to meaning that don't come through in silent reading. Plus, who among us isn't enchanted by a lilting Irish brogue?

So, without further adieu, here's the poet readi
Could be that I'm a total Philistine, but I didn't find this, my first toe dipped into the waters of Seams Heaney, to be particularly moving or transcendent. I'm content to believe that the Nobel committee knows something I don't.

I don't know that much about poetry, but I do know that I don't like lots of poems where the poets write with self-referential navel-gazing, epitomized when referring to oneself in the third person as "the poet." Since Seamus Heaney doesn't do this here, he's OK by me.
Tyler Jones
The other day I heard a dramatic reading of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky on the radio. Obviously I was stuck by how a word that has no literal meaning can still make perfect sense, as long as the poem as a whole works.

I do not understand much of the culture, or some of the language, out of which Heaney wrote, but the poems in Human chain make such perfect sense that I feel I have an understanding where my knowledge is absent.

Can we ask any more of a poet than this?
Sian Griffiths
I love the way Heaney uses simple language and makes it sing, and he does that here as well as he does it anywhere. His words carry tremendous authority and power. The book is so readable, but the poetry doesn't feel light. If I have one critique, it's that I wish he was a little less referential. So often, Dante or Virgil or someone will appear, and though I know this is true to Heaney's life and experience, I can't help but feel it becomes a way of propping the poems up with genius, but there' ...more
Dan Gobble
My favorite lines from this collection:

"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."

(Seamus Heaney, from the poem "Album", p. 4)
Katherine Collins
From the title poem:
“That quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,
A letting go which will not come again.
Or it will, once. And for all.”

I cannot give you any more compelling reason to read this book!
Tom Romig
A sad day in Ireland and other parts of the globe where poetry thrives when Seamus Heaney died. He is a master of immediacy, of enabling the reader to see and feel and hear and taste. In Human Chain, Heaney is in the shadow of a stroke he endured, an intimation of mortality that got him musing about a fading past and a diminishing future. This is how "In the Attic" ends:

As I age and blank on names,
As my uncertainty on stairs
Is more and more the light-headedness

Of a cabin boy's first time on the
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 up-swelling of emotion 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
Whenever I read poetry that is this dense, I think that I need an English Lit major to help me parse it out. After I read the book, I read the book description and only occasionally recognized ideas that I took from the book. One line that particularly struck me:
"As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable."
I sought out this particular collection after enjoying Heaney's District and Circle TS Eliot prizewinner shortly before he died, and then seeing this mentioned in obituaries with reference to the inspiration of ill health. Unlike so many poets, he can make me feel I am reading scraps of beauty and meaning even when I haven't a clue what he is on about overall, as was the case with many poems here but I confess I was disappointed not to find more of it accessible without assistance, and not quite ...more
Seamus Haney is also a pleasure because his language is so rich, inviting reading aloud to revel in the sound as the moments he sings materialize.
Richard Downey
since his death, I decided to read all of Heaney's books of poetry. This was the last. It has been an amazing journey.
Pete Mackey
Heaney always gives a lot in his bracing, spare and language-rich lines, and this collection, an earthy and yet somehow tender encounter with mortality, is no different. But I found this collection's second half stronger than its first, except for the opening short and dramatic "Had I not been awake." For me the best in the collection -- and in some ways Heaney at his best -- were "Slack," "A Herbal," "Route 110," "Wraiths" and "In the Attic," while "Hermit Songs" and its breathtaking, beautiful ...more
Strange to think this won the Forward Prize; on the whole it seems on a par with his recent _Electric Light_, which is to say it's in a tie for his weakest collection. As was the case with _Electric Light_, many of the poems are obscure to the point of opacity; it's as if, having won the Nobel Prize and thus the largest audience of his career, Heaney has felt a need to retreat into privacy. However, also like _Electric Light_, _Human Chain_ has its shining moments, as in the title poem, "Miracle ...more
Richard Magrath
An incredible Irish poet, this book was poignant and rich, but unless you're Irish or have the computer nearby (or probably both), it is sometimes inaccessible. This collection will certainly need a second reading in the future. But, there were some absolutely brilliant poems!
There is no adoration that I can provide for Mr. Heaney that has not already been given in ways that are a thousand fold more articulate. I know that this sounds maudlin - Human Chain is a collection of poetry that once again makes me feel honored to have even lived at a time when Mr. Heaney has graced us. These poems are no less sublime than others he has penned, only this collection has a sense of loss and melancholy that did not exist in his prior collection, District Circle. I will always re ...more
It was a pleasure as well as a relief to learn that one of our greatest poets is still at the top of his game. I loved this book. The title poem is a masterful thing. If I were a teacher, it seems to me it would be a splendid poem to teach. The sequence entitled 'Route 110' and its introductory piece 'The Riverbank Field' offer proof that Book vi of the Aeneid has, even more than the Divine Comedy, become Heaney's touchstone text. A feast of pleasure awaits - "Open, settle, smile, begin."
Beautiful poetry! One of my favorite poets thus far
My first Heaney reading. Surprising, given how much he has written and how well-acclaimed he is. But then, there is much lacking in my self-created curriculum, a body of works staged by whispers and gleanings.

It's a broad collection, full of musical language, some of it easy to hear, some difficult, if no less beautiful. Because many of the names and places are specific to his corner of the universe they are at once alive (vibrating) and aloof (echoing).

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Seamus Justin Heaney was an Irish poet, writer and lecturer from County Derry, Ireland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

Heaney on Wikipedia.
More about Seamus Heaney...
Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 Selected Poems, 1966-1987 Death of a Naturalist North The Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone

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