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The Monday Poem > Monday Poem - 'Digging' by Seamus Heaney - 30/1/2017

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message 1: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 12099 comments Mod
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.


message 2: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 12099 comments Mod
Taken from http://ireland-calling.com/digging/
There is a video of Heaney reading the poem.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for sharing! I like this poem a lot


message 4: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Wonderful poem, such a great example of time and place.


message 5: by Joan (new)

Joan Thanks, I could listen to Heaney reading all day.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Alannah, thanks for the video link! I really enjoyed it, could really feel his words. My grandfather was an amazing gardener, this poem brought me close to him again in my mind. Thanks. :)


message 7: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 12099 comments Mod
I always think of my grandfather too when I read this poem, he was a wonderful gardener and always kept a beautiful garden full of colourful flowers. People would always stop outside the house and ask him what certain flowers were but he always had to shout into my grandmother to ask her because he could never remember the names.


message 8: by Joan (new)

Joan The mention of the gun at the beginning set me on edge (I live in the land of guns) but then shifted to gardening and ancestors.
Can anyone give me some insight on the gun simile?


message 9: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 12099 comments Mod
I may not be right but I remember when we studied the poem, my class talked about the fact that Heaney's father and grandfather may have been soldiers in World War I and II. That their weapons are not replaced with spades and shovels.


message 10: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 12099 comments Mod
Looking back I know Ireland fought for Britain in WWI but were neutral in WWII so I'm not sure.


message 11: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I love this poem -- good choice Alannah!


message 12: by Susie (new)

Susie | 179 comments Very different poem for me...I like it!


message 13: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
I like the poem too Alannah! Once again, another great choice! As always with Heaney, wonderfully vivid. I can definitely feel these past generations digging!

Like Joan, I was a little puzzled by the gun reference though. The way it was used seem to be setting up something violent or at the very least contentious, but the poem itself is almost slightly wistful, this memory of his forbears who were experts in their simple but vital tasks with the potatoes and turf.

Your explanation of the gun reference is as good as any I can come up with, but it still strikes me as a bit odd. I wonder if the poems before or after it in the original collection related in some way?

I like the suggestion in the final line - that he will unearth possibly vital life-giving things akin to these potatoes and turf with his writing, his own kind of "digging." That his writing is a sort of important work of its own maybe.

Thanks for posting Alannah, and sorry to respond so late. I wanted to spend time with the poem before responding.


message 14: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Re the gun, I've always read this to mean that those of Heaney's generation had to choose whether or not to be involved in the violence relating to the move for a United Ireland, and that several people he knew chose that route, but that he has chosen the route of writing instead.


message 15: by Joan (new)

Joan Your comments about the gun made me wonder if he was implying that his pen has somehow replaced the gun as a weapon. The previous generation had used guns to advance their world view but he will use a pen.

Can anyone tell me how Heaney viewed the Irish struggle for independence?


message 16: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Here's an article that may give a bit of an idea, Joan:
http://www.spectator.co.uk/2013/09/se...


message 17: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments And this is good in general about SH also:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/36...


message 18: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
Gill wrote: "Re the gun, I've always read this to mean that those of Heaney's generation had to choose whether or not to be involved in the violence relating to the move for a United Ireland, and that several p..."

Thanks Gill! It makes sense that this is a reference to the violence of that struggle.

I like your and Joan's interpretations. Maybe it also has to do with the dangerousness of writing in this environment, the strong possibility of doing violence with your pen even accidentally, the fear of being co-opted by one side or the other for propaganda?

In that article you linked Gill, it seems that danger was ever-forward in Heaney's mind. He was trying very hard not to stoke the violence, but in the precariousness of the situation, he had to be very cautious of every word he wrote. In those circumstances, the pen could feel very much like a gun, like something dangerous.

The oddest thing for me is that the gun reference seems to have very little to do with the rest of the poem. But in the whole book of poems it was orginally published in, with repeated concerns and motifs, it probably felt a lot more natural. I do often find it difficult to make full sense of individual poems out of the context they originally belonged to.


message 19: by Joan (new)

Joan the squat pen seems to have morphed through the poem from gun to tool for digging...
which brings us back to the WWI vets putting away their weapons and taking up farm tools.
This discussion really helped me, thanks.


message 20: by Greg (last edited Feb 05, 2017 01:32PM) (new)

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
Joan wrote: "the squat pen seems to have morphed through the poem from gun to tool for digging..."

Good point! A pen can be used for both purposes, for inciting violence and for building/useful work.


message 21: by Joan (new)

Joan Gill wrote: "And this is good in general about SH also:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/36..."


Thank you for those, I only knew of his Beowulf translation. The audio version is one of my prize possessions but I hadn't read his poetry. I grew up around belligerent, rabidly proud Irish-American cousins, which turned me off to anything Celtic for years. I guess its time to let that go.


message 22: by Joan (new)

Joan Nancy, I never knew about the 1880 issue.


message 23: by Joan (new)

Joan I see that was written to accompany a BBC series; did you watch it?


message 24: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Joan wrote: "Your comments about the gun made me wonder if he was implying that his pen has somehow replaced the gun as a weapon. The previous generation had used guns to advance their world view but he will us..."

This is how I took it, that he is fighting through his writing.


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