An Appreciation Of The Poem Digging By

Seamus Heaney Essay, Research Paper

Digging A poem by Seamus Heaney

In this poem ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney, there is an element of ambiguity. The author writes this poem about a Father ‘digging potatoes’ – this however, is only on the surface. Underlying the true intention or meaning of the poem reveals the great admiration and respect for how hardworking his Father and Grandfather was. All though this may just be a poem about ‘digging potatoes’. The poet reveals the tremendous skill in digging and conveys certain artistry in this physical act. The poet also uses this poem to speak out against the past political situation of farming in Ireland.

He uses his words as a ‘weapon’ to speak out what he personally feels to be wrong.

The poem is written in free verse. Although the first two stanzas of the poem show the start of regularity and rhyme, this changes to the use of free verse continuing to the end of the poem. This form of free verse allows the poet a freedom for subtle rhythmic variety, for example using assonance. Or making words look like they rhyme. Which is shown quite regularly through this poem.

Free verse also complements the style of the poet ‘connecting’ with the reader in the way that it seems like the poet is writing directly to the reader. Making it a more ‘in touch’ and personal poem to subjects that we can relate to. In this case. Having a respect for your Father or your heritage.

The poems opening line, in a simple, complete one line statement, conveys the impression of the poet talking to us directly and also sets a ’snapshot’ of time for the reader:

“Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests; snug as a gun”

This opening line focuses our attention to the fact that this is set in present time. It is as if the opening lines in the first stanza is creating the beginning of his memories being told by the poet.

When Seamus Heaney uses the word “gun” in relation to his “pen.” The author uses this simile “gun” to express his relief that he can use his pen instead of a gun as a weapon. It shows a new belief that you do not have to use violence to achieve your goal.

Seamus Heaney is careful n choosing the word “gun” – almost a starting point in what else that he chooses to say as a “weapon” for the subjects raised in the rest of the poem.

Seamus Heaney is able to document time successfully. In the opening lines of the poem, it is as if he sets the beginning of his memory or starting to tell the ’story’ of his father ‘digging.’

He moves on to say: “Under my window, a clean rasping sound/When spade sinks into gravelly ground”

So we move on to the next stanza to his father digging. These lines are extremely effective in producing this image in ones mind using onomatopoeic words such as ‘rasping’ and ‘gravelly’ which depicts the image of the act of digging. This shows to be clever technique in the poem.

As mentioned, the ambiguity shown in this poem is particularly evident. The poet conveys one thing, but can be interpreted that he means something different. It could be a case of trying to disguise what is really trying to say.

In the second stanza of the poem he uses the word “gravelly” not only to create the image of digging, but can be seen as “symbolic.” Seamus Heaney is alluding to the one crop law that was imposed on Ireland by England. The law later blamed for the famine that struck Ireland when the potato crop failed. Seamus Heaney shows the ground is ‘grave like’ because it was the physical cause for the famine. The soil retained too much water, resulting in the potato crop rotting. The message in just this word ‘gravelly’ is to the reader and the way that Seamus Heaney uses ambiguity, it is to educate the reader of the hardship that these farmers had to go through under the English oppressive rule. This is an example of how a pen can be a weapon.

In the third stanza where Heaney uses “twenty years” he is watching his Father digging in the flowerbeds, this brings back memories of his father working in the potato filed. This memory is what the author is choosing to document in order to give the reader a ’sense of time’ and taking the reader with his memories. Going back to the point made that Heaney creates a close relationship with the reader using this method.

This poem shows to be particularly descriptive. At the same time shows admiration and artistry that Heaney employs to the physical act of ‘digging.’

As Heaney recalls a memory about his Father digging, he shows his love and admiration by his use of alliteration that creates a powerful image for the reader:

In the fourth stanza he uses it in this way:

“buried the bright edge deep”, “potatoes that we picked” and “hardness of our hands.”

At this stage of the poem it suggests an emotional tone in the author by the language and alliteration used.

The way he puts his words together and the short syllables used such as ” He roots out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep” or ” Loving their cool hardness in our hands.”

This creates an artistic view of what seems a simple act of ‘digging potatoes’

Heaney also shows appreciation of accuracy and the skill needed in order to be a farmer. He uses delicate language to describe an act of digging which can’t really be described as ‘delicate.’ This shows to be a powerful contrast.

Heaney uses “Nicking and slicing, neatly.” These indeed is a delicate description of ‘digging.’

As mentioned earlier we can see that through the language used, he respects what his father and grandfather did, as farmers, a great deal.

The first evidence of this is shown when he almost boasts:

“By God the old man could handle a spade”

In the sixth stanza of this poem he recalls a memory of how hardworking his grandfather was:

“My grandfather cut more turf in a day

than any other man on Toner’s bog”

This does show the immense pride he felt towards his father and grandfather.

In the fifth stanza when he uses the phrase in reference to his father of “old man” this points out that his father can dig as good as his grandfather, it is relevant because Heaney is providing a reader with a sense of time. Which is an important element in this poem.

As the poet shows admiration and respect he has towards his father and grandfather, Heaney shows disappointment that he can never be like his father or grandfather, for reasons not mentioned by the poet.

In the seventh stanza, he describes the smell of the potatoes and recalling his memories in the last line of this stanza. Heaney writes:

“But I have no spade to follow men like them.”

He shows great respect for these men but knows he can never be like them. In this, he compares himself to these men. However, the poem ends when he reflects on what he can do-what he as an individual can do, that being writing. He ends this poem with a confident line where he writes: “I’ll dig with it.” This can be interpreted in the way that their lives are connected between his Father, Grandfather and himself, being that they are all skilled in what they do.

It is surprising that the parallels of ‘digging’ and ‘writing’ are so strong.

A writer ‘digs’ with his own mind and ‘digging’ and ‘writing’ are both constructive.

The farmer digs in order to get the potatoes for nourishment for the body, as a writer writes for nourishment for the mind. This poem succeeds in conveying the poet’s thoughts of admiration in what his Father and grandfather did. As well as using his poem or ‘pen’ as a ‘weapon’ to speak out for what he believes in. The use of simple, yet clever language shows admiration as well as depicting the ‘hidden’ meanings found in this poem.

The entire poem has ambiguity involved; almost three points are made at the same time. That is being admiration and respect, how he uses his pen as a weapon, and his comparison to his father in what he does. All though he knows that he can’t be his Father he searches for something he can do that lives up to what his father did.

A sense of strong emotion is depicted form the author by how he describes the ‘act’ of digging in itself, as well as the language used to show the respect in his Father.

Seamus Heaney shows a clever technique of bringing the reader to his memories as well as how he documents time to the present or the past.

He is also successful in making the reader ‘read between’ the lines, so to speak. In order to show the readers the true intention of this poem about



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