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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
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Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist, Field Work, Wintering Out
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