From The Telegraph:
Human Chain is stranger – and much greater – than a cursory glance would suggest. Though here, as expected, are exquisitely turned poems about rural events and childhood incidents, the collection also revisits (and sometimes redirects) earlier work, and there is a chilly, other-worldly aura hanging over the whole enterprise. “Chanson d’Aventure” describes the mild stroke Heaney suffered in 2006, and how he and his wife were “careered at speed” in an ambulance through “Dungloe, / Glendoan, our gaze ecstatic and bisected / By a hooked-up drip-feed to the cannula.” The book, as Eliot said of Webster, is much possessed by death.
The opening poem, “Had I not been awake”, replays the stroke in allegory, setting a new unfamiliar tenor of uncertainty and precariousness. A sudden wind whips sycamore leaves up onto the roof in a moment that “came and went so unexpectedly / And almost it seemed dangerously, / Returning like an animal to the house” resulting in “the whole of me a-patter”. Dominant motifs of Heaney’s work such as balance, steadiness and endurance are infused with a new awareness of instability, even in retrospect. And there is gratitude for this newly earned knowledge. In “A Herbal”, after Guillevic, about the plants that thrive in graveyards, Heaney writes: “The wind // Has me well rehearsed / In the ways of the world. // Unstable is good.” A new lexicon of tremor has entered the poems; as a boy he is “a-fluster” when an eel takes his fishing bait; his grandfather’s voice is “a-waver”; when the funeral bell tolls, the grass is “all a-tremble”; a riverbank field is “twilit and a-hover / With midge-drifts”; the words “giddiness”, “giddy” and “lightheadedness” occur and sometimes reoccur.
The poems are preoccupied with connection and separation.