The sad news that Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney died today in Dublin sent me back to “Human Chain” (FSG, 2010), his last collection of poetry.
In his laudatory review for The Washington Post, Troy Jollimore noted that these poems “are pervaded by an awareness of mortality, of encroaching darkness. At times this awareness proves nearly too sad to bear. . . . Through much of the book, though, the pain of grief and anticipated grief is made bearable through various means: most important, perhaps, being the recognition that an individual life — and thus an individual death — is only one small element of a much larger world. This larger world is sometimes conceived as a kind of afterlife or heaven.”
“That wish — that death might represent a liberation, a passage to a higher state of being — is ubiquitous in this collection, and it infuses these meditative poems with a spiritual buoyancy, a subtle and reassuring joy.”
Jollimore concluded with these words that seem even more poignant today: “There is so much life in ‘Human Chain’ that one wishes he were, in fact, just starting out. It is wonderful, and heartbreaking, to think of the books this promising poet might go on to write, given another 50 years or so.”
UPDATE: Here’s a photo gallery of Seamus Heaney.