Digging

Digging

by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; 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.

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.

Summary of Digging

  • Popularity of “Digging”: Seamus Heaney, a distinguished Irish poet, playwright, and translator, wrote this poem. Digging is a narrative poem and was first published in 1966 in his poetry collection, Death of a Naturalist. The poem is about the speaker’s family tradition. It explains the importance of respect and hard work, coupled with family tradition.
  • “Digging” As a Representative of Hard Work: The poem expresses the speaker’s sentiments for his ancestor’s tradition. The poem begins when the speaker sitting on his desk with a pen in his hand. He is distracted by the sound of digging coming from his garden where his father is preparing the field for potatoes. While he glances his father working in the garden, he recalls how his grandfather used to work in the same way in his garden. He proudly declares that digging is his family tradition. Although his ancestors have not done anything great, he finds greatness in their untiring work. He shows great respect for them and acknowledges that he has inherited the skill of digging from them. He tells that his ancestors used garden tools, and he uses his intellectual power.
  • Major Themes in “Digging”: Identity, admiration and hard work are the notable themes of this poem. The poem presents the speaker’s identity in contrast with his ancestors. The speaker is happy that he has received the talent of digging from his family. First, he discusses the accomplishments and untiring efforts of his father and grandfather, and then he provides a graphic description of the tools they used to prepare their fields. However, the poet’s tool is his pen that helps him dig into his memory and family history. The poet has beautifully explored his relationship with his family legacy using his pen and expertise.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Digging”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to convey their emotions, ideas, and themes to make texts more appealing to the reader. Seamus Heaney has also used literary devices in this poem to express his ideas. The analysis of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it moves over the next line. For example,

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.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Between my finger and my thumb”, “The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft” and “The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap.”
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /e/ in “The squat pen rests; snug as a gun” and the sound of /ea/ in “Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods”.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /l/ in “The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap” and the sound of /ng/ in “Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods.”
  4. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick successions. For example, the sound of /t/ in “He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep” and the sound of /c/ in “Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge”.
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism means to use symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. “Digging” symbolizes tradition.
  6. Simile: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different in nature using as or like. For example, “The squat pen rests; snug as a gun”. Here the pen is compared to a gun. Though not physically, a pen or a written word can also hurt people.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Digging”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are eight stanzas in this poem. Each stanza varies in length.
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here third and seventh stanzas are quatrain.
  3. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
  4. Repetition: The following lines are repeated in the first and last stanza of the poem which has created a musical quality in the poem. For example,

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.”

  1. Refrain: The lines repeated at some distance in the poems is called a refrain. The following verses are repeated with the same words, it has become refrain as they have been repeated in the first and last stanzas of the poem. For example,

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable for children to make them understand how potatoes are cultivated.  You can also use these lines to help the children understand the value of hard work.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.”