summer." The emptiness he contemplates here is not unlike the "high windows" in Larkin's poem, with their "sun-comprehending glass, / And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows / Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless." In his Oxford lecture on Larkin, Heaney interpreted this great absence as a threat. Now he is not afraid to broach it and finds it "not unwelcoming." In Human Chain, the poet enters the space of his own mortality--where he too will be absent one day--and discovers a new consolation, not in terms borrowed from Christianity, where the accent is on redemption, but in pagan, classical terms where the poet hands over to posterity and is guaranteed an afterlife in the esteem of others. This outlook sustains the title poem, dedicated to Terence Brown. Heaney thinks of the weight of bags of meal in a relief operation as they are passed along a human chain of aid workers. Each weight is released as the bag is handed on, "A letting go which will not come again. / Or it will, once. And for all." That final moment of release is beautifully modulated in the last poem in the book, "A Kite
New Hibernia Review – Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas
Published: Apr 1, 2011
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