District & Circle – Close Analysis


“I would re-pocket and nod / …he… would also nod.”

  • Form of sonnet collapses fully (after quite a few cracks)
  • The conclusiveness of the rhyming couplet is shattered – especially as the rhyme is undermined (“nod” and “nod”)
  • This mutual nod is at the heart of the poem:
  1. Mutual recognition
  2. Respect – one artist for another
  3. Implicit acceptance of the social situation – everyone is selfish
  4. Failure to communicate?
  5. Refusal to pay or be paid
  6. The ambivalence at the heart of the poem comes back to haunt the speaker later
  • To what extent is this nod an agreement / acceptance i.e. a “yes”?
  • “trigger” implies that the money has a danger attached: paying might be somehow demeaning
  • “accorded passage” implies that the speaker has been granted access to the “underworld” – to maybe gain insight like Dante (Divine Comedy)
  • The concern re. “betray” that crops up later – has this interaction been misunderstood / in some failed?


In contrast to Dante’s journey of discovery in The Divine Comedy, this poem’s speaker fails to gain any insight into their journey in the underworld, either of their vocation as a poet or their identity as a person. With the collapse of the sonnet form at the end of the first of the five sonnet sequence the rhyming couplet is undermined by the repetition of “nod” at the end of the final two lines. However, the sonnet form is undermined before this too, but not so catastrophically: raising the point that this sonnet fails to reach a conclusion. The “nod” on which this poem ends, as well on which the sonnet fails, is at the very heart of the poem: what does the speaker’s encounter mean? The reader is left unsure by the end of this sonnet, as well as by the end of the sonnet sequence. When the question of the meeting’s significance is questioned latterly, the poet begins to doubt whether there was any mutual recognition. When the poet speaks of “triggering” a coin to pay the busker, the reader is left to wonder, what might such a payment go on to mean. Regardless of the ambivalence that stymies this poem, the meeting still has almost mythic significance for the speaker: who is he and who was this busker? What parts are either of them playing in what drama?


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