For a long time now, the poet Seamus Heaney has been obliged to make terms with the admiring consensus about his own poetry. This could be seen as a happy position, a problem, or, more accurately, a combination of both. The poetry audience, like that more general readership into which Heaney (almost uniquely among modern poets) crosses over, believes that what oft was well expressed cannot be too often thought; and for someone of Heaney’s stature, this makes originality harder.
District and Circle comes five years after Heaney’s last volume, Electric Light, and in many ways it is the work of an altogether fresher, more inventive poet. While no book by Heaney is ever without its share of outstanding poems, Electric Light had a preponderance of dutiful and unsurprising verse.