Digging by Seamus Heaney

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“Digging” is one of Heaney’s first top writings and is one of his bestachievements. Appearing in one of his first collections Death of a Naturalist in 1966, the poem divulges into a depiction of a picturesque contrast between the poet and his forefathers and enacts the act of delving itself.

Digging

BY SEAMUS HEANEY

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pin rest; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

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The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Analysis of Seamus Heaney’s Digging

Digging is a poem that is portraying the relationship between and poet and his father. The poem depicts the scenario where the poet remembers his father and forefathers, and the lineage he belongs from. The poet reflects on his father, who used to plow potato drills, into which the seeds of the potatoes can be planted, but now, on the other hand, strives to dig flowerbeds in his own garden.

The poet’s grandfather, as he recollects, used to be in the same venture, where he used to dig peat. And, now the son, and grandson, does not plow the earth; he writes. The poet starts his poem with the lines “a snug as a gun” which is a suggestive simile where the poet tries to give a declarative sentence, where he argues with the long established proverb, ”a pen is mightier” than the sword, simultaneously showing the readers his views on choosing a different life, a new life; where he doesn’t follow his father or his grandfather, but chooses to bleed out his emotions with his “squat pen” rather than a spade.

The poet shows a picturesque description how he still follows the path of his father and forefathers with his ‘squat pen’ and digs, just like them. But instead of digging out potato drills and peat, he digs out his emotions, his deepest darkest secrets, the lives of his father and his grandfather, and most importantly, he digs out the country that is embedded in his heart; Ireland.

In this poem, Seamus Heaney shows a contrast between the art of writing with his long family lineage of being close to the earth.

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