Human Chain, by Seamus Heaney

2 March 2013

for Terence Brown

Seeing the bags of meal passed hand to hand
In close-up by the aid workers, and soldiers
Firing over the mob, I was braced again

With a grip on two sack corners,
Two packed wads of grain I’d worked to lugs
To give me purchase, ready for the heave –

The eye-to-eye, one-two, one-two upswing
On to the trailer, then the stoop and drag and drain
Of the next lift. Nothing surpassed

That quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,
A letting go which will not come again.
Or it will, once. And for all.


Typical Heaney: the moving of a load. The closing line is not his subtlest. But there is also something implied that is most un-Heaney: a screen, which is presumably where the narrator is ‘seeing’ the aid workers. A slightly different theme, but in the remote viewing of ‘somewhere else’, it’s interesting to compare with Ted Hughes’ ‘Public Bar TV’.

[Read in Human Chain, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from the Guardian.]


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