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The poem is a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Die Brandstätte" (English: "the site" or "the scene of the fire"), from the 1908 edition of Neue Gedichte. It recounts the morning after a fire which has consumed a home, leaving "emptiness behind / Scorched linden trees". When "the son of the place" appears on the scene, he uses a stick to drag "an out-of-shape old can or kettle" from the wreckage, and attempts to tell the others present about his loss. The poem concludes with his realising that "he [is] changed: a foreigner among them".
- The poem is set on the 2013-2014 International A-level syllabus for Literature in English by the Cambridge International Examinations board.
- Stephen Cohn adopts the same title as Heaney in his translation of the poem. See: Rilke, Rainer Maria. Neue Gedichte / New Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, 1992, p199 (ISBN 978-1857547702). Others, such as Stanley Appelbaum, choose a title which is closer to the original. See "The Scene of the Fire" in: Rilke, Rainer Maria. Ausgewählte Gedichte / Selected Poems. New York: Dover, 2011, p121-23. (ISBN 978-0486478616)
- Paul Hurt discusses Heaney's Rilke translations and compares them with his own.
- Alan Tucker's translation of "Die Brandstätte".
The poem describes an obsolete machine from Ireland's agricultural past. As the handle turns the turnip snedder slices the turnip heads "bucketful by glistering bucketful". In the seventh and ninth stanzas the machine is overheard saying: "'This is the way God sees life ... from seedling-braird to snedder ... This is the turnip-cycle".
During an interview with Dennis O'Driscoll Heaney describes the poem's origins
- "The Turnip-Snedder" - about a machine for mangling and slicing turnips - is dedicated to the artist Hughie O'Donoghue. In the catalogue for an exhibition, he included a photograph of this old implement surrounded by a pile of sugar beet. The minute I saw the photograph, I felt the iron, the grip, the haft of the handle. So I was up and away.
- 'The Turnip-Snedder' was published in March 2006 by The New Yorker, two months before the release of District and Circle (Vol. 82, Issue 5, p138). The poem, which is set on the 2013-2014 International A-level syllabus for Literature in English by the Cambridge International Examinations board, has received attention from literary critics such as Prof. Kevin Murphy of Ithaca College, writing for the The Recorder (the journal of The American Irish Historical Society). See: Murphy, Kevin. "District and Circle." The Recorder, Vol. 19, No. 2 & 20 (Summer 2007): pp190-91. See also Brewster, Scott and Michael Parker. Irish Literature since 1990. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009, p170. Ozawa, Shigeru. The Poetics of Symbiosis: Reading Seamus Heaney's Major Works. Grantham: BookSurge, 2009, p94-99.
- O'Driscoll, Dennis. Stepping Stones. London: Faber and Faber, 2008, p407 (ISBN 9780571242528). Heaney also discussed the poem in an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide entitled 'Seamus Heaney: Bogging in Again' which was aired in November 2006. (Available to listen or to read in transcript).
- "sned, v.". OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/183143 (accessed February 02, 2013).
- "snithe, v.". OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/183326 (accessed February 02, 2013).
- Hughie O'Donoghue's paintings based on the photograph can be viewed on Mutual Art and the Blouin Art Sales Index.
The poem recounts an experience from Easter Day 1944, when Heaney was four years old. The boy is "watching and waiting ... by the perimeter" of the Toome Aerodrome with an unnamed woman when he is struck by "fear" that she will "rise and go // With the pilot calling from his Thunderbolt". Instead, she responds by "only the slightest / Back-stiffening and standing of her ground / As her hand reached down and tightened" around his own. The poem concludes with a stanza reflecting upon love and the woman's "stance".
Heaney also revisits his early memories of the Second World War in the two preceding poems of the collection: "To Mick Joyce in Heaven" and "Anahorish 1944", which recalls the arrival of American troops in the neighbouring townland to his Mossbawn family farm.
When asked about his revival of these memories in an interview with Dennis O'Driscoll, he replied:
- It's a matter of coming to terms with reality. A matter of things once taken for granted being granted too casually their sombre significance. ... I remember the aerodrome because it was a sort of forbidden zone, fenced off with barbed wire and built over with runways and hangars and Nissen huts; at the same time there was a touch of wonderland about it, what with planes coming in and rising up and the pilots and ground staff all in uniform. Menace and marvel equally in the air.