A wonderful collection

2008-02-01 00:00

In 1964, Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, wrote in his poem, Digging, of his commitment to the pen rather than to the spade, the tool wielded by his father and grandfather. Despite his choice of the cerebral above the physical, Heaney has always expressed admiration and respect for those with expertise in things manual. In his latest collection, District and Circle, he continues to do so, paying tribute, in carefully wrought work, to individuals who exhibit skill and strength in the handling of their implements.

In other poems and in three short prose pieces, Heaney recalls episodes from his childhood and adolescence in rural Northern Ireland. While there is considerable humour underlying many of these poems, there is also evidence of the tension of being a Catholic on Protestant turf.

Heaney's keen observation of the natural world is frequently apparent, as in The Blackbird of Glanmore, with its reference to the death of his young brother, whom readers will recall as the subject of his moving, early poem, Mid-Term Break.

A considerable number of poems are addressed to, or allude to, fellow poets, who might now be “out of this world”, like Polish Nobel laureate, Czeslaw Milosz, but who, in relinquishing it, nevertheless leave it “scored” (Wordsworth's Skates).

At the heart of the collection is Heaney's acute awareness of the threats and dangers of the modern world, particularly post 9/11. It is a world in which “Anything can happen, the tallest towers / Be overturned”. It is a world that Heaney's Tollund Man rejects.

Readers of Heaney will be familiar with his interest in Tollund Man, the fourth century BC figure recovered “unatrophied” from a Danish peat bog in 1950. In his brilliant revisiting of the subject, Heaney writes of a man whose body has been resurrected into an alien world (“your virtual city”) and whose spirit yearns for his own distant age, without “scans, screens, hidden eyes”, the accoutrements of neurosis.

In the title poem, District and Circle, Heaney vividly evokes the London Underground and, being “hurtled forward” on his designated train, he reflects on the brevity and ephemerality of existence.

Heaney's work is, of course, intelligent, humorous, well-wrought and finely tuned and this is a welcome and wonderful collection.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.