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.
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
Between my finger and my thumbThe squat pen rests; snug as a gun.Under my window, a clean rasping soundWhen the spade sinks into gravelly ground:My father, digging. I look downTill his straining rump among the flowerbedsBends low, comes up twenty years awayStooping in rhythm through potato drillsWhere he was digging.The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaftAgainst the inside knee was levered firmly.He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deepTo 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 dayThan any other man on Toner’s bog.Once I carried him milk in a bottleCorked sloppily with paper. He straightened upTo drink it, then fell to right awayNicking and slicing neatly, heaving sodsOver his shoulder, going down and downFor the good turf. Digging.The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slapOf soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edgeThrough living roots awaken in my head.But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.Between my finger and my thumbThe squat pen rests.I’ll dig with it.