Seamus Heaney: Physical and Mental Digging In the poem “Digging,” Seamus Heaney seems to use his father’s and his grandfather’s digging into the homeland ground as a comparison to his writing and development of his poetry. Heaney’s father and grandfather use their shovels to work with the land, and Heaney is now using a pen to work on his ideas to write poetry. The beginning of this poem starts out with Heaney describing what he might do before he starts to write a poem. Heaney writes, “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; snug as a gun” (1-2), which refers to how he picks up the pen and gently rests it in his hand waiting to write, but at the same time he has a firm enough grip on it that nobody can take it and break his concentration. The next lines indicate that Heaney is in his bedroom waiting for thoughts to come into his head, so he can write his poetry, when he hears his father start to work: “When the spade sinks into the gravelly ground” (4). When his father is beginning his dig, he has to really work hard to tear into the tough ground, and this is similar to when Heaney starts to write a poem. Heaney may have some good ideas to write about, but they are buried deep in his mind, so he must somehow dig them out of there in order to use them. The poet must really concentrate to think of ideas and words to use. The mind is similar to the fields because it is very fertile, and with some work to it, it will produce great results just like the field produces new crops. Heaney’s attention is now drawn out the window to his father working hard in the fields. Digging in the harsh fields of the homeland was very straining to his father, as illustrated in the line, “Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds” (6). It seems as if Heaney’s father is very experienced at digging and preparing the soil for the growing season. He has become an expert at preparing the fields and the phrase “bends low, comes up twenty years away” (7) seems to indicate that he has spent many years producing successful crops in the field. Heaney has also become very proficient at writing his poetry. The line, “stooping in rhythm through potato drills” (8) shows that he can get the rhythm of the poetry down like he wants it, just like the rhythm his father is using when he digs down into the soil. Both Heaney and his father are now very hard at work, and although they are doing two totally different kinds of work, it is really quite similar because Heaney’s father is actually digging a long trench to plant potato seeds in, while Heaney is also digging, but for words to plant into his poem, instead of literally digging into the ground. Heaney’s father is trying to dig deeper and deeper into the earth to try and obtain the best possible soil in which to plant the potato seeds, by pushing his foot down onto the shovel: “The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft against the inside knee was levered firmly” (10). Heaney is also digging deep into his mind searching for the best possible thoughts and words that he can use to make the best possible poem.
Next, Heaney’s father begins to pick out the fresh new potatoes from the ground. He picks the potatoes out of the ground and holds them in his hands to admire his beautiful work. His picking of the potatoes and admiring them is represented in the lines, “He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep” (12), “Loving their cool hardness in our hands” (14). This is similar to the writing of poetry in that Heaney has taken the wrong words and thrown them out and then proceeded to dig deeper and find the correct words to use in his poem. He feels great satisfaction when he achieves this, just like when his father feels good holding the wonderful potatoes he has grown. Heaney begins to talk about how his grandfather used to work very hard in the field, cutting turf until he could hardly stand up: 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 (17-21)Heaney is describing his grandfather’s pain and suffering that he endured and how much hard work he had to do in the fields. He is relating this to how he must go through an abundance of work to make his poetry the way he wants it. Heaney starts to think of his ancestors when he says, “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” (25-27). Heaney remembers how they were, but he doesn’t want to follow in their footsteps: “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them” (28). He is saying that he is probably not cut out to work in the fields like his father and grandfather, but he does want to carry over their traits of hard work. He seems to do a good job of doing this by working very hard on his poetry, and he just keeps on digging and digging for new and better ideas. In the last stanza Heaney is sitting in his room preparing to write poetry. He writes, “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it” (29-31). He is sitting with his pen in his hand and he uses the pen as an analogy with a shovel, saying that he will use the pen to do his digging. In conclusion, Heaney is expressing that he is still searching for the best words for his poem. He must continue to dig to find the right words to show his meaning in the best possible way. Heaney works hard like his father and grandfather, except instead of physical labor he uses his thoughts and feelings. Heaney, like his ancestors, has been very successful at his particular career, and he is hoping to be respected by others for his hard work. His career is really not much different than that of his ancestors in the field. Even though he has escaped the physical labor, hard work and “Digging” are still very much an important and required part of his life