The ‘Human Chain’: Elegies for Artists, Dead

The ‘Human Chain’: Elegies for Artists, Dead

By Joseph LaBine

In his recent memorial poem “For SH, Dead” Stephen Pender writes of Seamus Heaney:

You died, an ‘as yet’…

The gaudy scars you mention

have drawn themselves, a here

of here, marking a day,

set to speak

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

But, to be sure, there are “no gaudy scars” to look at in “Mid-Term Break” (the Heaney poem Pender alludes to); the bumper of the car that kills the speaker’s four year old brother has “knocked him clear.” But, are we not knocked clear also? For Pender, the publicity surrounding the event of Heaney’s death presents a very clear problem, the poet’s need to “speak” amongst the twittering talk, the gaudy blot that is already “marking” the “day.” In seeing these gaudy scars, readers are knocked clear to the reality of trivialized death—death that is a production in itself, but also the means by which the poem is produced.


Seamus+HeaneythehumanchainLike the speaker of “Mid-Term Break,” without this figurative mark on the day writers aligned with Pender, who feel “strange with intimacy” at a poet’s passing, would be forced into silence. As Aaron Daigle has argued, the writing purposely “resists logical positivism and…fails to signify precisely where it is most meaningful or most needed” (Daigle par. 3).The irony falls on all those who would try to make meaning out of Heaney’s death. The reduction of Heaney’s ‘mark’ in the title to merely initials becomes clear as a pun on “SHHHHH!” The speaker of Pender’s poem has joined the talk with a very quiet entrance and at the same time rebukes all those people writing about Heaney as “an occasion for self” (Pender ln 8). The “intimacy” that drives the curiosity in “For SH, Dead” helps us to theorize the elegy in the same manner as Heaney. The similarity of both speakers’ emotional reserve suggests that breaking the silence is only the first encounter. The quiet intimacy we engage in memorial has us staking a place for future obsession. This notion is undoubtedly true for the boy in “Mid-Term Break” who is haunted at the end of the poem by the “paler” vision of his dead brother.


Stephen Pender

Stephen Pender

In a wider sense, the memorial poem represents a place of obsession for both poets. Heaney’s Human Chain—a work that frequently, obsessively, speaks to the dead more than it elegizes—forms a better synthesis with Pender’s book-petit, some of our finest problems became science than “SH Dead” does with “Mid-Term Break.” Pender’s incorporation of the latter does not seem as eye-to-eye with the rest of his work as does “Chanson d’Aventure” from Human Chain,wherein Heaney reflects on the lines: “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,/ But yet the body is his book” (14). The theme and quotation of this book and poem seem closer to Pender’s obsession with Donne-inspired lyrics. However, Pender certainly intended the hasty allusion to Heaney and the jarring jaunty lines. He seems to be following the wisdom of the last stanza of “Human Chain,” in which we see Heaney’s description of the ‘work’ of a memorial poem. The quiet steps from silence the speaker makes in Pender’s elegy are “[t]hat quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,/A letting go which will not come again./Or it will, once. And for all” (Heaney18).




Works Cited

Daigle, Aaron. “blame linguists: A Review of Stephen Pender’s ‘some of our finest problems        became science’.” Literary Ramblings. Ed. Jason Horn. Published 29 Dec. 2013. Web. 8    Jan. 2014.

Heaney, Seamus. Human Chain. London: Faber and Faber, 2010. Print.


—. “Mid-Term Break” poetry genius. Genius Media Group, 2014. Web. 8 Jan. 2014.


Pender, Stephen. some of our finest problems became science. Windsor, ON: Flat Singles Press,    2013. Print.


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