Digging, by Seamus Heaney

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Seamus Heaney was long known as "Famous Seamus" in his homeland. 

The Irish writer, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, had been writing beautiful poetry for decades (before he died in 2013).

One of his earliest poems - from the 1960s - compares the work he does with that of his father and grandfather.  All three men use their hands, to earn a living, but the youngest of the three is a different kind of digger.

Think about these issues as you hear and/or read the poem.



Seamus Heaney—the writer of this poem—admires the way his father and grandfather used a spade to dig in the earth. The poet says that he digs, too—with a pen instead of a spade. 

What is he  digging?  

Heaney did not follow the same path as his father and grandfather.  Do you think his father approved of his son's career choice? Is the son happy with his own choice? Does the poem give us any clues about that?

Heaney has "no spade to follow men like them." Does he regret this? Does he have no spade because "life moves on," making it difficult (if not impossible) for him to follow in his father's footsteps?

When technology changes the way we live, are those changes always good? Were they good for Heaney? 


By Seamus Heaney

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.

To hear (and see) Seamus Heaney read his poem, "Digging," watch this embedded video.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5154stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Dec 19, 2018

Media Credits

"Digging," by Seamus Heaney, from Death of a Naturalist (1969).  Copyright, Seamus Heaney, all rights reserved.  Provided here, as fair use for educational purposes, and read by Carole Bos (creator of Awesome Stories).


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Digging, by Seamus Heaney" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Dec 19, 2018.
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