The squat pen rests; as 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, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, 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.
|Words |Description | | | parallel ridges in the earth for growing potatoes | |potato drills (line 8) | | |lug (line 10) | the flattened top edge of the spade blade, against which the digger pushes with his foot | |shaft (line 10) | the pole between the handle and the blade | |turf (line 17) | a section of peat, cut from the ground for fuel |
In this poem Heaney sees his father, an old man, digging the flowerbeds. He remembers how his younger, stronger father used to dig in the potato fields when Heaney was a child - and how his grandfather, before that, was an expert turf digger. Heaney knows that he has no spade to follow men like them - he is a writer, not a farmer - so will dig with his pen. He will 'dig' into his past.
Structure and Language
The poem consists of nine stanzas that vary between two lines and five lines in length. There is no pattern to the stanzas, perhaps to reflect the idea that there is no pattern or predictability to our memories. Language
Think about how the language the poet uses helps to convey his ideas. Here are some points to consider: • The title is blunt. It is only when we have read the poem carefully that we realise that all three generation are involved in digging: his grandfather dug turf, his father dug up potatoes, Heaney is digging up his memories and his past. • The poem begins in the present tense as Heaney describes seeing his elderly father straining among the flowerbeds, then goes into the past tense when he remembers his father and grandfather at work. The last two stanzas return to the present, when Heaney realises that his work is to write. The final line, however, is in the future tense, to emphasise Heaney's determination - "I'll dig". • Heaney remembers his own role in the digging: he and other children would gather the new potatoes that his father dug up, and he was responsible for taking milk to his grandfather on Toner's bog. It was this involvement that enabled him to watch his father and grandfather at work and describe their movements so precisely. • His father was clearly skilled at his work. Heaney remembers him "Stooping in rhythm through potato drills" (line 8) and his boot and his knee fitted the...