Seamus Heaney Poems

Digging Up the Past

Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging,” an eight-stanza poem written in free verse, is the first in his collection of poems entitled Death of a Naturalist, which was published in 1966. Written in first-person narrative, this circularly structured poem utilizes formalistic elements to reconcile the fact that the speaker will not follow in his forebears’ footsteps as a common laborer. However, subtle hints that the speaker does not meet certain aspects of the male stereotype manifest themselves throughout the poem.

The poem’s vivid imagery helps reveal that the speaker is trying to rationalize and justify his career choice, but it also unveils his respect for digging, the trade of his ancestors. In the second line of the poem, the speaker describes the pen as resting between his thumb and index finger “snug as a gun” (line 2). This simile suggests that the pen feels warm and comfortable in his hands, yet at the same time, it hints at the pen’s capacity to powerfully fire words, much like a gun powerfully fires bullets. The poet continues this same idea of something fitting when he refers to his father’s boot as “nestled on the lug” of the spade (10). The speaker wonders whether or not he -- a well-educated writer -- fits in with his...

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