Friday, 19 November 2010

Digging - Seamus Heaney


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as 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 could 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, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, 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.


At the start of the poem, Seamus Heaney (writing in the 1st person) is stood at a window, looking down into the garden watching his Father dig. He is watching him, admiring the skill and precision of his Father.

The sight of his Father digging reminds him of twenty years ago, when he'd watched his Father digging before. This reminds him of his Grandfather digging as well, indicating to the reader that digging up pete for potatoes is a family trade.

He rememberas helping his Father plant potatoes, "To scatter new potatoes that we picked." he also talks about how good his Father is at digging - very skillful, precise etc, just like his Grandfather.

In particular, Seamus Heaney remembers a time when he brought his Grandfather a bottle of milk when he was busy digging. His Grandad drank it very fast and then imediatialy got back to digging. This makes Seamus proud of his Grandfather and admirable as he shows determination and commitment to the task in hand.

The writer talks about how digging has run in the family and how his Father and Grandfather were highly skilled diggers, however his skill is writing. He compares the spade used to dig with his pen. Writing is his equivalent to digging. His skill. 


This poem is about digging - more specifically, Seamus Heaney's Father and Grandfather digging. Seamus Heaney is watching his Father digging in the garden and he is thinking about watching his Father and his Grandfather in the past. He talks about how digging has run in the family. It is also about the admiration that Seamus Heaney has for his Father and Grandfather. It is all about Heaney's childhood, recalling memories of his Father and Grandfather.

The phrase which stuck with me the most was the conclusive stanza, "Between my finger and my thumb, The squat pen rests.I'll dig with it." This stuck with me because although Seamus cannot dig up to the standard of his Father or Grandfather, he has a different skill which he can do just as well, his skill is writing. I think that it is really clever how Seamus creates the link between digging and writing in the poem.

Heaney is different to his Father because his Father is very skilled in digging, however, Seamus is skilled in writing.


Seamus Heaney uses onomatopoeia several times throughout the poem. For example, "squelch and slap," gives the reader imagery, the words perfectly describe the mud and the use of onomatopoeia is very effective.
Another example is "Nicking and slicing," describing the mivement of the spade. ''Slice'' indicates the sharp, precise cuts through the soil, creating imagery and showing how skilled his Grandfather was. "Rasping sound" is another use on onomatopoeia that gives the audience an idea of exactly what it was like. The word ''Rasping'' allows the audience to almost hear the sound themself.

Sound is important in this poem because it is a main descriptive factor. Seamus Heaney describes the sounds very precisely, using onomatopoeia when he can. This really gets the reader to imagine they are there, and it helps them to ''hear'' the soudns themself - the ''slicing'' or ''rasping'' sounds.
In the first verse of the poem, Seamus uses a lot of alliterations -- "squat," "Snug," "Rasping Sound," "Spade sinking" - the 'S' sound shows the precission, the smooth sounds of digging etc. However, the poet then begins to use a harsher sound - 'G'  -- "gravelly ground" shows is being more difficult - less smooth. Simply by uses the literary technique of alliteration, the poet is able to describe the actions just through sound.

Seamus Heaney really emphasises the skill of his Father by describing the exact precission. He uses technical terms as well to describe his Fathers actions - "The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft, Against the inside knee was levered firmly." This shows that his Father is not just digging randomly, he has a method and and technique, like a proffessional.

Heaney writes "By God, the old man could handle a spade, Just like his old man." The phrase ''By God'' really emphasises how skilled his Father is.

In the poem "Digging," Seamus Heaney writes the line "But I've no spade to follow men like them," I think that this means he cannot dig up t the standard of his Father or Grandfather, he is not as skilled as them. However, this may not be a negative thing -- he has other talents elsewhere - in Heaney's case, his talent being writing.

"The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it." Heaney wirtes this line to concluse the poem. By this he means that he will dig metaphorically; digging down into his memory to see his past. He could also mean that he will write instead if dig - his Father and his Grandfather were both skillful diggers, however Seamus does not have this skill. Instead, he can write. So this line may mean that his will do what he does best - writing, to him is the equivalent of digging.

1 comment:

  1. Only a farmer can write about farmers in a convincing manner. However, Heaney is not a farmer. On other other hand, his tool is pen, and he is doing his cultivation of ideas with it. In this manner, a parallelism can be traced between the farmer and the writer.
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