Human Chain: Seamus Heaney

I have to confess a deep-felt preference for rhyming over blank verse (and remain much-amused by Hewitt’s sonnet on the subject) and regret that Seamus Heaney – in his latest anthology Human Chain – continues to forsake the former in favour of the latter.  

The latest edition of the satirical publication Private Eye has an unnamed critic parody many of the poems contained in this volume and I find myself in sympathy. For example, he parodies Heaney’s ‘The Wood Road’ : –


Resurfaced, never widened,

The verges grassy as when

Bill Pickering lay with his gun

Under the summer hedge

Nightwatching, in uniform –


Special militiaman.


Moonlight on rifle barrels,

On the windscreen of a van

Roadblocking the road,

The rest of his staunch patrol

In profile, sentry-loyal,


Harassing Mulhollandstown. (continues)


With the following …

Carpet-crawlers in convent lace, the old red trace of the earth tied

Up in grass knots, brass pots cast aside in the hedge’s loosestrife-stiven

Shadow. And the horse’s spavined forelock, swollen like

Church coffers at Christmas. Meltwater, foxbreath, shanksscrimbler, a past

Interred in madeupwords … (continues)

Heaney returns to his perennial theme of family and childhood memories, school days, his mother and father looming large as usual ; indeed, much of the same type of material beloved of Newry Journal.

And though I have enjoyed this tome as my bedside reading this fortnight past, I feel curiously unsatisfied by its contents – sweet and light, like candyfloss, not what I expect from the world’s best living poet. 

Will any individual poem here make its way to the school or college syllabus? I fear not. 

Curiously light-weight, is my personal assessment. 

Like all good parody, there is gross exaggeration, but a hint of underlying truth in the above expression  ‘A past interred in madeupwords’ …


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