Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. Under my window, a clean rasping sound. Two years later it was the first poem in Heaney's first published book Death of a Naturalist. Digging resonated with me and always makes me think of my father not only due to the time we spent together but also the content. They are woven with a keen instinct for the special sounds words produce - harsh consonants, deep long vowels - placed on the page with a knowing sense of form. My ancestors in Ireland raised cattle, worked the land and were butchers. When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds, The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft. Repeating certain words and phrases in a poem gives the reader a clear message of importance and emphasis. There are several examples of alliteration, which enhances the sound and brings variety and interest for the reader: spade sinks/ gravelly ground...tall tops/buried the bright....squelch and slap...curt cuts. By God, the old man could handle a spade. Verbs like nestled, rooted and buried sit firmly in the rural landscape, whilst boot, knee and hands bring a strong, physical dimension. It's his father. Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. It begins with the speaker hovering over a blank page with a pen, preparing to write. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep. Three years later, he published his second volume of poetry, Door into the Dark. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. Here's what Heaney has to say about the poem: 'I now believe that the ‘Digging’ poem had for me the force of an initiation: the confidence I mentioned arose from a sense that perhaps I could do this poetry thing too, and having experienced the excitement and release of it once, I was doomed to look for it again and again.'. Heaney's use of enjambment in this stanza is particularly apt, working within the syntax to produce relevant flow and pause. The reader is taken into the mind of the speaker who is watching out the window as his father digs the garden. Three lines, with the third and fourth line fully rhymed which points to a strong bond. Note the slant rhyme of thumb/gun which loosely binds the lines, whilst enjambment sends the reader straight from the end of the first line onto the second. My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner’s bog. I look down. 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. Digging is one of Seamus Heaney's best known poems and appeared first in the New Statesman magazine in 1964. I look down, Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds. A fistful of poems about fatherhood by classic and contemporary poets. By God, the old man could handle a spade. It doesn't have a set rhyme scheme as such and alternates between tetrameter and pentameter rhythms, with several shorter lines here and there. This time it's not the potato being dug but peat, known locally as turf, which was dried and used for fuel in winter time. What is notable is the fact that the speaker holds a pen - from the first line the pen holds the power of the present (and on into the future), whilst the spade used by the father is distanced, a tool of the past. A native of Northern Ireland, Heaney was raised in County Derry, and later lived for many years in Dublin. The only other Irish poet to claim this accolade was W.B.Yeats back in 1923, so Heaney is in the best of company. The speaker is looking back through the family history, noting how hard his father and his grandfather have worked the land. There is no set regular metre in this poem although tetrameter, four beats per line, and pentameter lines dominate, especially pentameter, five beats per line. 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. But I’ve no spade to follow men like them. A non-rhyming couplet, the opening lines set the scene, giving a close up for the reader of the speaker's finger and thumb holding a pen (with which he is writing?). Seamus Heaney is widely recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. Looking at Seamus Heaney's debut, Death of a Naturalist. Seamus Heaney. The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft against the inside knee was levered firmly. The speaker was there, observing the hard work, the detail, as his father went about digging up the new potatoes. This steady core parallels the action of the digger, steady and without extremes. "Digging" is one of the most widely known poems by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney and serves as the opening poem of Heaney's debut 1966 poetry collection, Death of a Naturalist. By Seamus Heaney. Again enjambment helps the flow of meaning between lines and also between stanzas. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. The tone is serious and full of reflection. Poetry Foundation. The speaker can hear someone digging into soil. 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. Seamus Heaney, "Digging" from Death of a Naturalist.Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney. Digging is an 8 stanza, 31 line poem that starts off in the present, moves into the past and then returns to the present and hints at the future towards the end. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. The speaker is reflecting on the rural history of his family, the men who worked the land and concludes that they were born and bred for such toil, whilst he is made for something less manual - he will use the pen in much the same way that his forebears used the spade. The pen is the spade, the speaker declaring that he will use the pen to dig with, leaving behind the tool of his forefathers, the farmer's spade. And again with: Between/clean/knee/deep/neatly/heaving. Note the repeat of the title word. 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. In this respect it is a very personal declaration - the son of the farmer is no longer tied to the land and the spade but will instead use the pen to dig his way into life. Digging is a basic no-nonsense title and reflects the strong feelings Heaney has for the land. Use of these long and short vowels, with gutterals, brings texture and interest to the sounds, giving the poem a depth of contrast in various stanzas. Just like his old man. A Dog Was Crying To-Night in Wicklow Also. This is the enlightment, the acknowledgement. A native of Northern Ireland, Heaney was raised in County Derry, and later lived for many years in Dublin. You can picture the family out in the field, working away in primitive fashion, the father digging, the children helping out, picking up the 'spuds' as they were unearthed. Another increase in lineation, this time four lines, and not a hint of rhyme this time. Bends low, comes up twenty years away. Between my finger and my thumbThe squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. Against the inside knee was levered firmly. I’ll dig with it. Two years later it was the first poem in Heaney's first published book Death of a Naturalist. Digging was the one poem my father and I spent time reading and discussing. Both lines have five feet and a mix of iambic, trochaic and spondaic. It can also be an echo of the action taking place, in this case that of digging, which is most definitely repetitive. This stanza brings the reader intimately into a detailed scene where grandfather is out on the bog with his spade and in comes someone with a drink, milk in a bottle. The memory is vivid, the speaker's observation as keen as the slicing edge of the spade. His poems are published online and in print. Heaney was an Irish playwright, poet, and academic; he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. There's a kind of rough pride in the way the speaker boasts about their ability. He was the author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, and edited several widely used anthologies. Words that sound like what they mean - for example: squelch/slap/soggy. Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds. In 1966, he published his first major work, Death of a Naturalist, in which this poem is included. My father went on to do his own digging with the squat pen and then the computer, playing an instrumental role in electronically linking Swarthmore, Haverford & Bryn Mawr College libraries. So it's quite clear that the author believed this poem to be highly significant, the one that effectively launched him as a bona fide poet. He straightened up, The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap. It takes him back to a different time and in so doing releases him from the past. This page is dedicated to my father, Michael Joseph Durkan. There is no set rhyme scheme for Digging, no established pattern of end rhymes. This book launched the young poet's career and he went on to become one of the world's most famous poets, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature no less, in 1995. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." Two simple lines, a condensed summing up of the father's and grandfather's skills with the spade, the tool that allowed them to work the earth and produce food for the family table. Essentially it is a free verse poem with strong internal rhymes, alliteration and assonance, typical textured Heaney. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/seamus-heaney. He has respect for those who were expert diggers. Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. Thank you for visiting, I’m glad you are here. So look out for the words: digging...spade....down...men...turf....and the first line and a half...Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests.
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