“Digging” by Seamus Heaney is the first poem in the first full volume of Heaney’s poems, “Death of a Naturalist”. “Death of a Naturalist” is about the transition into adulthood and the loss of innocence. The poem shows how Heaney looked up to his father and grandfather, especially their hard work. Even though Heaney did not follow in their footsteps and become a farm laborer, he respects the work they do, especially their skill at digging.
The poem is a free verse poem. It has eight stanzas with two couplets. It rhymes occasionally, but it does not have a patterned rhyme. The first two lines rhyme with “thumb” and “gun”, the second stanza also has some rhyming words. The poem is a first person narrative; this is evident from the first line that uses the word “my” and other lines throughout that use words such as “I” and “we”. The title relates to the poem because all three generations mentioned are digging. His father dug potato drills and flowerbeds, his grandpa used to dig peat, and he is digging up the past. Because of this, the title is very fitting.
Throughout the poem Seamus Heaney uses shifts in the tense to convey his memories as well as his determination for the future. It starts off in present tense as he sees his father struggling with the flowerbed. The poem then shifts to past in order to recall his grandfather’s work digging peat and his father’s stronger days digging potato drills. The poem returns to present tense during the last two stanzas. The final line is future tense in order to show that Seamus understands that his work is writing.
The first stanza of the poem says the pen in his hand fits “snug as a gun” (line 2. The second stanza is Heaney looking down from is window to s...
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...” as they fill the bucket. Another shift occurs in the second stanza when the speaker says they “hoarded the fresh berries in the byre” (line 17). “Byre” means a shed, but it can also be a support for a casket or corpse. This foreshadows what is to come.
The berries begin to spoil because more were picked than could be eaten in time. The “rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache” (line 19) got to them. The berries would have lasted longer if they had been left on the bush, but desire and greed overwhelmed the speaker when picking the luscious berries. Because he lost the berries due to rotting, the speaker says, “I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair / That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot. / Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not” (lines 22-24). The speaker collects berries every year, more berries than needed, and he always sees them go bad.
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