District and Circle Poems

Seamus Heaney

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

96 Pages


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Seamus Heaney's new collection starts "In an age of bare hands and cast iron" and ends as "The automatic lock / clunks shut" in the eerie new conditions of a menaced twenty-first century. In their haunted, almost visionary clarity, the poems assay the weight and worth of what has been held in the hand and in the memory. Images from of a childhood spent far from the horrors of World War II are colored by a strongly contemporary sense that "Anything can happen," and other images from the dangerous present—a journey on the Underground, a melting glacier—are fraught with this same anxiety.
But District and Circle, which includes some "found prose" and a number of translations, offers resistance as the poet gathers his staying powers and stands his ground in the hiding places of love and excited language. In a sequence like "The Tollund Man in Springtime" and in several poems which "do the rounds of the district"—its known roads and rivers and trees, its familiar and unfamiliar ghosts—threats to the planet are intuited in the local place, yet a lyric force prevails. With more relish and conviction than ever, Heaney maintains his trust in the obduracy of workaday realities and the mystery of everyday renewals.


Praise for District and Circle

"District and Circle plays rich variations on old themes. For all its roughening rhyming, there's a remarkable consistency to Heaney's oeuvre over the decades—a personal evolution strikingly clear of self-repudiations and dead-ends. The author of District and Circle is unmistakably the flourishing direct descendant of his first collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966) . . . District and Circle brims with lovely evocations, reconstructions, restorations: a fireman's helmet, a barber shop fitted into a 'one-room one-chimney house'; an aerodrome; a man playing a saw 'inside the puddle doorway / of a downtown shop in Belfast' . . . His voice carries the authenticity and believability of the plainspoken—even though (herein his magic) his words are anything but plainspoken. His stanzas are dense echo chambers of contending nuances and ricocheting sounds. And his is the gift of saying something extraordinary while, line by line, conveying a sense that this is something an ordinary person might actually say."—Brad Leithauser, The New York Times Book Review 
"Thomas Wolf notwithstanding, Seamus Heaney has gone home again, and the result—District and Circle—is his strongest book of poems in 20 years . . . This volume is as work- and earth-centered as Heaney has been in years. It is a triumph . . . Those early Heaney books remain the standard, but even they become renewed and transformed through the lens of this new masterpiece."—Dave Lucas, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
"If literary history (and its brutal instrument, the anthology) preserves only this poem from so impressive a volume, it will be enough to remind us why Heaney remains such a celebrated poet, why many place him firmly among the best of the 20th century and why his work continues to be worth rereading long after it has, in his words, 'set the darkness echoing' behind it."—Anthony Cuda, The Washington Post
"This is one of those remarkable books of poetry which demonstrates with particular suddenness and clarity, what poems of the finest quality are really good for. They re-energize the language, and by doing so, they serve to quicken the reader's soul."—The Economist
"This book does not come full circle but expands outward as the past resonates 'Always new to me, always familiar.' The poems achieved are graspable physical objects, not 'infinite,' but so wide and so deep, and solid . . . No poet alive uses the sonnet with such ease and power. He has made something old new again."—William Corbett, The Boston Phoenix
"Nobel laureate Heaney is a virtual archaeologist, digging deeply into the earth in search of civilization's foundation and mining the human psyche for what is immutable, archetypal, and quintessential in our collective unconscious. Identifying resonantly with the Irish landscape, Heaney is a poet of labor, praising hammer and anvil, trowel and blade. Many poets possess a painterly sensibility; Heaney's is sculptural, his materials clay, stone, and brick. This bard of the hand-hewn and the hard-won, the bog and the country road, builds poems out of quatrains, that sturdy form, and constructs rock-solid sonnets. Looking to the past with tenderness and bemusement, steeped in myths ancient and modern, he recalls when tinkers appeared in his home district, muses over the changes war and technology deliver, contemplates a melting glacier, and traces the lineage between catastrophes of old and today's crises: 'Anything can happen, the tallest towers / Be overturned, those in high places daunted, / Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune / Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one, / Setting it down bleeding on the next.'"—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Nobel prize winner Heaney's latest collection of robust lyrics celebrates work, memory, and the physicality of existence. Brimming with anvils, hammers, shovels, and pumps, these poems are scored into the page with Heaney's signature accentual and alliterative force. They demonstrate that words can be braced and wedged and lifted and swung from the shoulder, leaving almost physical traces of the objects they name: 'Contrary, unflowery/ sky-whisk and bristle, more/ twig-fret than fruit-fort,/ crabbed/ as crabbed could be-/ that was the tree/ I remembered.' For Heaney, the tongue is the muscle best suited to the hard work of animating the past, as in the sonnet sequence 'District and Circle,' in which he re-creates the movement of a subway ride taken decades earlier: 'So deeper into it, crowd-swept, strap-hanging,/ My lofted arm a-swivel like a flail,/ My father's glazed face in my own waning/ And craning . . . ' His is an uncompromising Irish tongue—a rural one, at that . . . [T]here is no question that Heaney's poetry presents the 'mass and majesty of this world' with unparalleled vigor. Recommended."—Fred Muratori, Library Journal
"The latest from the Irish Nobel laureate may be his best in more than a decade. Celebrations of everyday objects (a fireman's helmet, a sledgehammer, an anvil), homages to and elegies for other poets (George Seferis, Pablo Neruda, Czeslaw Milosz) and gleaming recollections from the author's rural youth dominate this lyrical volume, which stands out as well for its diversity of forms: the supple pentameters Heaney perfected in such 1990s volumes as Seeing Things rub shoulders with prose poems, rough-hewn quatrains and slower-paced free verse reminiscent of the 1970s poems that made his name. Many efforts strike a ground note of nostalgia: 'A Clip' remembers the 'one-roomed, one-chimney house' where Heaney got his first haircut, 'Senior Infants' looks back at primary school. Yet for all his Irish rootedness, Heaney's newest work remains international (poems set in the London Underground, the Danish bog where he set famous earlier poems, and in a warm and pleasant Italy) and unboundedly global: one of the strongest short lyrics, 'Hofn,' wonders at a newly melting glacier, anxious about global warming, yet astonished by the ice's remaining immensities, its 'grey-gristed earth-pelt, aeon-scruff, 'its coldness that still seemed enough/ To iceblock the plane window dimmed with breath.'"—Publishers Weekly

In the Press

Celebrating the Life and Work of Seamus Heaney | Work in Progress
Seamus Heaney's death last week left a rift in our lives, and in poetry, that won't easily be mended. A Nobel Laureate, a devoted husband, a sharp translator, a beloved friend, and the big-hearted leader of the "Government of the Tongue," Seamus was a poet of conscience...

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Read an Excerpt

Seamus Heaney's first collection, Death of a Naturalist, appeared forty years ago. Since then he has published poetry, criticism, and translations that have established him as one of the leading poets of his generation. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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  • Seamus Heaney

  • Seamus Heaney's first collection, Death of a Naturalist, appeared forty years ago. Since then he has published poetry, criticism, and translations that have established him as one of the leading poets of his generation. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Seamus Heaney Keith Barnes