Anything Can Happen by Seamus Heaney


Quote that sums up Heaney’s overarching concern:

‘Anything can happen’

  • Quote which gives the poem its title and is repeated throughout the poem itself.
  • Reminder that nothing is beyond the realms of possibility; which Heaney is trying to demonstrate through writing in the aftermath of 9/11.
  • This quote fits his comparison between modern day disasters such as 9/11 and Horace’s accounts of ancient terror in Roman times.


Where the poem’s rhythm changes most obviously:

Ground gives.


  • End stopped line
  • Seismic effect of the explosion – reinforces that nothing will be the same as it was before
  • The line itself fails to meet the poem’s average of 10 syllables per line – suggests there is evidently something that has been lost/that will never be the same



How the poem fits in the collection:


  • Consistent with Heaney’s other poetry, in which he doesn’t take the side in a political struggle but distances himself/widens the issue by using allusion to mythology eg. Horace/Dante (District and Circle)
  • The following poem in the collection, Helmet, also refers to 9/11 but instead the crest on a particular fire-fighter’s helmet.
  • Like the Turnip Snedder – Heaney warns us in the poem of the implications of man abandoning or abusing nature (in this instance he suggests nature is rebelling against man).



The tallest towers / be overturned


Heaney uses broken, staccato form throughout ‘Anything can Happen’ to suggest the implications of modern humanity’s break from nature, and reinforces this with classical allusions to compare modern disasters with ancient terrors. The caesura in this phrase serves to break it up and speed up the rhythm towards the second half of the phrase, which suggests that the great achievements of humanity can be ‘overturned’ as easily as they were made. True to his beliefs as a poet he refuses to take a side in the political conflict surrounding 9/11 and offers an alternative explanation: that humanity is at risk from the power of nature rebelling against man, perhaps because we have abandoned its simplicity. Heaney’s assertion that ‘the tallest towers/can be overturned’ comes as first in a list of things he believes to be within the realms of possibility, suggesting Heaney believes this to be the most powerful display of nature’s force against mankind. However, he also suggests further in the stanza that another consequence is ‘those overlooked regarded’, creating ambiguity: is Heaney taking a political standpoint and suggesting people that have been put down should strike out against their oppressors?


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