Foreword (District and Circle)

Foreword  (District and Circle). District and Circle is Seamus Heaney’s twelfth collection since Death of a Naturalist (1966), published in April 2006 by Faber and Faber. There are 44 titles including 5 sequences of more than one poem; 68 poems in all. Many had already appeared in some form or other in a variety of publications on both sides of […]

The Turnip Snedder

  In ‘Stepping Stones’ (p 407) Heaney acknowledges to Dennis O’Driscoll that District and Circle was a time for ‘pouncing’ on poems; the inspiration for this opener was a photograph the poet saw visiting  in an exhibition by modernist artist Hughie O’Donoghue to whom he dedicates the piece. Associated with Heaney’s rural Irish ‘territory’, this manually driven turnip-crushing machine, a […]

A Shiver

  The sonnet sets out at some length the physics and dynamics of wielding a hammer. The energy generated brings with it, however, an understanding of its destructiveness. What begins as a sense of physical reverberation affecting the person using a heavy tool ultimately evokes a shiver of fear when, as contemporary history demonstrates, extreme power falls into the wrong […]

Home Help

Poems recalling the memory of two of Heaney’s father’s sisters. Helping Sarah A woman working in the garden in springtime: ageing, perhaps, but annually rejuvenated at this moment in time, young/  Again as the year; neat and demure with tuck and tightening of blouse; active and untroubled by stiffness of the joints: with vigorous advance of knee; busy weeding rigs; […]


The poem focuses on an Boston fire-fighter’s headgear, symbolic of a breed seen as god-like ‘supermen’ risking their lives for society. It was presented ‘formally’ to Heaney in an informal ceremony in Boston. The poem celebrates human solidarity. A helmet; its owner; its provenance: a Boston fireman’s gift; the name printed boldly on its spread / Fantailing brim / … […]

Polish Sleepers

The first of eight poems alluding to boyhood during World War II. In this first poem the sight of recycled use of railway sleepers transports the speaker back in time to the lost domain of wartime childhood. Within this context, reference to Poland and the positioning of other key-words in the narrative open the way to the period’s more chilling […]

Anahorish 1944

In a newspaper interview Heaney revealed how, as a boy, he watched American troops marching by from ‘up a beech tree’. The momentous preparations for D-Day  brought an international force to Britain which was to launch an assault on the Normandy beaches and free Europe from nazi oppression. Unusually Heaney, who would have been a small boy at the time, […]

To Mick Joyce in Heaven

A sequence of 5 sonnets, set at a time when Heaney was five or six years of age, is addressed to the memory of Mick Joyce. Heaney resurrects a figure from the past, recalling him with great warmth, affection and good-humour. The man was ‘demobbed’ at the end of WW2 and, it is suggested, became part of the post-war reconstruction […]

The Aerodrome

Before moving away from his WW2 theme, the poet retells the story of a particular wartime visit to his local airfield. The visit becomes a parable about insecurity, temptation and resistance. The airfield is long since out of commission, first disused then re-developed : First … back to grass, then after that/ To warehouses and brickfields/ … Its wartime grey […]

Anything Can Happen

Of the outrages that occurred increasingly regularly in the 5 years following Heaney’s previous published volume, it was the ‘strike’ of 9/11 that persuaded him to write Anything Can Happen. He adapts Horace’s Ode I, 34 to focus on the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. This act had brought Heaney to a […]