Earlier this month, the former Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney was awarded the Forward prize for best collection, in recognition of his twelfth volume of poetry, Human Chain. For over forty years Heaney has dug deep with his pen into the psyche of Ulster, exploring cultural identities and Ireland’s troubled past. But his newest collection has little to recount for the recent troubles in Ireland and instead focuses on the poet’s own mortality which is brought starkly to the fore in poems such as ‘The Baler’ and ‘Chanson d’Aventure’.
Confronting one’s own mortality has caused some of the poems in Human Chain to sound markedly less upbeat than those which appeared in its predecessor, District and Circle. However, as often is the case with Heaney, there is cause for joy and celebration to be found in the darkest of subject matters.
Heaney suffered a stroke in 2006 which left him temporarily paralysed down his left-hand side and the poem ‘Chanson d’Aventure’ details the terrifying incident, along with the horror of realising that he was also paralysed. In the poem, it is the warm touch of his wife’s hands, Marie, that he misses being able to feel the most, but consolingly the couple still have the, “Everything and nothing spoken, / Our eyebeams threaded laser-fast”. Continue reading