Saturday Poem: Digging by Seamus Heaney

In Poetry on June 28, 2009 at 4:04 am

I love and admire the poetry of Seamus Heaney. What more need I say? Over the years his poems have nourished the heart, lifted and steadied the spirit unlike any other poet in the English language. I can vividly recall the spring of 2004 when I first bought a copy of “Poems: 1965-1975”, and how deeply enchanted I was from the very first page. The ensuing summer was a heady time – Heaney summer, as I think of it, when I devoured almost all his work, poems and prose, I could lay hands on. There will be plenty to say later on.

To be sure, his work is rooted in the “local” – the landscape and memories of his native Ireland (which itself is fascinating to someone who grew up in the dry, dusty plains of India), and yet it is open to everyone. “Digging” is a perfect example of this: anyone familiar with the rythms of rural life – the work on and of the land – will feel its tug and pull, and so also, as the poem closes, all who have thought about what it means to follow in the footsteps of one’s forbears.

What a blessing to be alive at a time when this immortal giant of letters is still writing and publishing!



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 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, 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.


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