Human Chain, By Seamus Heaney

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The Independent Culture

Typically, beautifully, the 12-line title poem of a volume that embodies Heaney's return from illness begins with a "close-up" of aid workers on TV swinging "bags of meal" one to another as soldiers fire.

It drops into memory and the "one-two upswing" followed by "stoop and drag and drain" of loading grain onto a farm trailer. These human types of "letting go" "will not come again./ Or it will, once. And for all."

So much in so little, with even punctuation hard at work. It sounds superfluous to praise the poet on this form. Just read him.

Here, images of limbos and transitions, crossings and afterlives – some in his haunting variations on Virgil – both mark and close the distance between people, generations, eras and, profoundly, life and death.