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Irish Poem: Digging By Seamus Heaney

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Once again, we see the great Seamus Heaney in the top 100 Irish poems list. And it is no wonder. This poem comes in at number 18 on the list of the top poems. 

I also found a great video of Heaney reading the poem a few years before he passed away. You can find it under the poem. Irish poet Seamus Heaney, the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995 and one of the 20th century’s greatest poets, died aged 74.

If you didn’t know, when Heaney refers to his father digging “turf”, he’s not talking about grass. Turf is the colloquial name for peat which was the principal fuel in many rural Irish homes burnt on an open fire.

Digging

Who was Seamus Heaney? 

Born on a farm in Northern Ireland, Seamus Heaney received a scholarship and left his family at age 12. A widely-read and accessible poet, Heaney’s subject matter often remains with his roots—rural life in Ireland. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and was formerly named the prestigious Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard.

Enjoy this lovely and touching Irish poem 

Digging

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.
 
Here is Seamus Heaney reading the poem giving a reading of his poem, “Digging”, at Villanova University in April 2010. 

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