District and Circle - Seamus Heaney [SKINNYFest 4]

Seamus Heaney exposes the immense fragility of our daily existence

Feature by Katie Mathis | 14 Aug 2006
In this, his twelfth collection, Seamus Heaney has lost none of his capacity to describe violence. Almost every poem in 'District and Circle' evokes the possibility of danger, lurking in ordinary places and objects. Farm machines are depicted in terms of weaponry; those wielding the axe may choose where it lands. Above all, we are warned, appearances are deceptive.

In the title poem, Heaney's narrator is travelling on the Underground. "Crowd-swept, strap-hanging", he enjoys the split-second pause between the opening of the carriage doors and sudden plunge of bodies between them onto the platform. Yet the walls are still weeping, and those above, in sunny lunchtime parks, are also bodies of "a resurrection scene minutes before / the resurrection". The narrator deliberately meets the eye of a beggar, acknowledging that both of them are simply there to see, because it is still possible.

Heaney once wrote that "necessary poetry touches the base of our sympathetic nature while taking in at the same time the unsympathetic nature of the world to which that nature is constantly exposed." 'District and Circle' speaks, as so much of Heaney's poetry has, to the immense fragility of our daily existence, where there is not, in fact, the "safety in numbers" evoked by the human chain jostling along the Underground platform.
District and Circle is Out Now
Seamus Heaney appears at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, RBS Main Theatre, August 24, 20:00 and August 25, 11:30