seamus heaney | digging

26 05 2012

POETRY DISPATCH #374 | May 26, 2012



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 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.

[from: OPEN GROUND: Selected Poems 1966-1996]



9 responses

27 05 2012
Simon Baddeley

This poem is now printed out and pinned up in my shed on Plot 14 of the Victoria Jubilee Allotments. Thanks. It is also much liked by other gardeners, especially the novices (like me),

27 05 2012
Donal Mahoney

Thanks for running “Digging” by Seamus Heaney.

I had almost forgotten how magnificent it is.

27 05 2012

Ah, “The cold smell of potato mould” – love the connection between pen and spade.

27 05 2012
Donald O'Donovan

Makes me glad I’m Irish.

27 05 2012
Patt Clark

I’ve always liked this Heaney poem, which stimulated me to read his other poetry. I found “The Early Purges,” reflecting the reality of farm life.

29 05 2012
Ann Lynaugh

Having just come in from the garden–or what was once a garden, depending onhow one feels about weeds, I opened this poem and enjoyed it tremendously. Of Irish heritage myself, I relate to the potato. In fact, my husband tells me I possess “potato-digger hands”. I take it as a compliment.

29 05 2012
eve nell

I have loved Seamus Heany’s work since I read Beowulf to my young sons. They loved it as much as I did.
Reading “Digging” and the comments about “potato-digger hands” and “the connection between pen and spade”, I thought:
Must one be Irish to love potatoes? to love digging them? and
there is surely a strong connection between pen and spade and the gun resting “snug.”

1 07 2012
Anne B Grotr

This is a poem where the words make you come alive and realize your earthly connection. A great poet!

22 05 2019
Does this make me… hardcore? | Blackwatertown

[…] about cheeky coalmen, gracious Gloucestershire gardens and the turning into ashes of Magherafelt. A squat pen snuck in too. And you can hear a little of him yourself […]

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