Foreword (Human Chain)

Seamus Heaney – Human Chain – 2010 Human Chain is Seamus Heaney’s thirteenth collection since Death of a Naturalist in 1966. His work over nearly half a century has lost none of its accessibility, erudition and vitality. The textual commentaries that follow seek to tease out what his poems are intimating in Human Chain. Of course, the poet’s ‘message’ will have started life as […]

Loughanure

An elegiac sequence dedicated to the memory of Colin Middleton, the eminent Irish artist (who described himself as the sole surrealist painter of his time in Ireland); he died at the end of 1983. He was a friend of the Heaneys even selling them a piece of his work for thirty Guineas/ Forty-odd years ago. i Heaney portrays the expressiveness of the […]

‘Had I not been awake I would have missed it’.

Heaney describes the moment when Nature’s external show of energy kick-started his own internal engine. The poem recalls the aftermath of serious illness (the poet had suffered a mild stroke in 2006 in a Donegal guesthouse) also reflecting Heaney’s in-built uncertainty as to where his next poetic spark might come from. Sleep inducing treatment has perhaps made moments of consciousness […]

The Conway Stewart

At the time when Heaney turned 11, it was not uncommon for parents to offer children a gift to celebrate some important success, here passing entrance examinations and entering Secondary education as a boarder. So authentic are the markings he describes that Heaney might well be looking at the very pen of 60 years earlier: the nib’s Medium point; its 14 carat gold composition; […]

Album

‘Album is a sequence of pictures painted in remembrance and with regret. A motif is introduced: a father-son relationship and the rueful recollection of ‘the Irishman’s reluctance to be too showy in affection, especially in affection between men’.  Thomas McCarthy writing in the Irish Examiner September 2010 i   Heaney’s world has shrunk to the size of the room in which he convalesces; […]

Miracle

Heaney adapts a New Testament miracle as a tribute to those who came to his aid in crisis. Having described his impotence as a stricken stretcher-case he salutes the initial human support-chain of friends whose efforts helped bring about the miracle of recovery. He is commemorating not the beneficiary of a biblical miracle (the one who takes up his bed and […]

Chanson d’Aventure

The epigraph, drawn from Donne’s Ecstacie, reflects on the inter-relationship of body and soul and the spiritual union between individuals: the body is the all-too vulnerable vessel within which the souls is said to repose; the soul is the area in which emotions are born. The soul seeks outward expression through the body, inhibited at this point in time by Heaney’s stroke-induced […]

Uncoupled

Heaney’s choice of title within the context of Human Chain, awakens multiple associations: his mother and father, so long a couple, no longer exist either as a pair or as individuals; two earlier links of a human chain have been disconnected as part of a human process to which Heaney himself will be subjected. The two vignettes are like short clips […]

The Butts

In conjuring up fragments of existence from his past Heaney recalls two scenes relative to his father: the fully active man revealed by the contents of his dead-man’s wardrobe; the family’s shared care for the dying man.  Familiar odours trigger a set of involuntary memories in Heaney who sees himself ‘invading’ his father’s wardrobe and, thereby, his privacy. His father’s […]

An Old Refrain

Two poems akin to folk songs: the first celebrating the lush perennial vegetation growing in profusion along the byways of Heaney’s childhood; the second listing an array of images and sensations the poet associates with familiar dialect words. i The poem focuses on the vetch plant he knows from childhood as Robin-run-the-hedge. Its fading straggle/ Of Lincoln green is reminiscent of the legend of […]