4 November 2016

Digging

Digging over our vegetable patch yesterday, I remembered a poem by Seamus Heaney. He came from farming stock in Northern Ireland. In achieving educational success and going on to become an acclaimed poet, Heaney was breaking the family mould. His father and grandfather and other male relatives had all been hard-working, self-sufficient men who tilled the soil and dug turf for the fire.

In "Digging" Heaney shows respect and admiration for these men while admitting that he has no "spade to follow" them. He is a man of letters but just as his forefathers dug the soil with purpose, he will dig for the truth with his "pen". For when all is said and done, isn't that what all meaningful poetry is about? Examining life, dissecting it and "digging" for understanding. I think so.

By the way, my improving left knee survived the spell in the garden but for a while last evening I thought that I might have overdone it as old pains were resurfacing. But today all is well - the shot knee rests/ I'll live with it.
____________________________
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.

by Seamus Heaney                     
(1939 - 2013)                        
                

22 comments:

  1. When I arrived on Lewis over 4 decades ago peat was cut by a very large number of families, including mine, and we tilled the soil for 'tatties and brassicas. Today few do either and there are far fewer crofts with sheep or cattle. As a matter of interest the peat cutter in your photo is using an Orkney single-person peat-cutter. I am now wondering if they used similar ones in Northern Ireland. In Lewis and Harris we use a peat-iron (tairsgear or iarainn-mhòna) which requires two people: one to cut and one to throw.

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    1. I didn't realise you were an authority on spades Graham. Does that make you a spadeologist? I found that picture on Google Images and have no idea where or when it was taken.

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  2. I am very fond of Heaney's poetry YP - but I had not come across this one. This month's poetry afternoon maybe.

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    1. Well that is very gratifying - to know that I have alerted you to a great poem you never knew before.

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  3. I hope your knee remains stable. I had a total knee replacement 2 weeks ago, and am currently in a rehab facility. And I can tell you, the rehab is TOUGH! I hope your knee lasts a good time longer, with only oral meds and maybe a joint injection from time to time.

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    1. Heavens! I don't know if I would be brave enough to have a knee replacement Mary. I hope you know that Graham Edwards at "Eagleton Notes" had a knee replacement earlier this year and now his life is transformed. You could find some solace and advice by communicating with Graham.

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  4. I do prefer poetry to rhyme, but I get it with the " Digging" !
    I had a bad knee for about 20 years or more..it came and went, so to speak, and I eventually had a half knee replacement 5 years ago…best thing I ever did. Luckily it was paid for by insurance through my work at the time. Hope your knee keeps going for while yet.

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    1. So do I Frances. The idea of having half a knee replaced sounds more irksome than having a full knee replacement. I am glad that the operation worked out so well for you.

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  5. Seamus certainly told the tale well with his pen.

    I hope your knee behaves itself henceforth...but don't overdo things which will stir the beast!

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    1. The Beast of Pain is not a beast to be trifled with.

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  6. When my knees are dodgy it is usually resolved by chiropractic treatment.

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    1. All this talk about knee replacements and chiropractors is making me nervous.

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  7. We have an old miner , who lives n a house outside the village .
    It is a joy watching him use a spade in his garden.
    It's ease personified

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    1. There's a kind of poetry in hard physical work.

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  8. I don't often read poetry but that piece instantly reminded me of my grandfather digging his vegetable garden.

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    1. Heaney's poetry is earthy and real - not floating pretentiously in ivory tower clouds.

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  9. He makes a great comparison in this poem. Some people dig harder than others.

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  10. Thanks for the Seamus Heaney poem. I think a biography was published recently and this prompted me to take an interest in his work.
    And thanks for the 'contact space'..

    Alphie

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    1. I am always happy to dish out "contact space" - whatever it might be.

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  11. Glad to know the pain was gone the next morning! The thought of knee (or hip, or any) replacement makes me nervous, too. It is, thankfully, not anything I need to consider, but who knows - I am not getting any younger...

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    1. For sixty years I pretty much lived without aches and pains. My body was like a very reliable car. But in the last two or three years reminders of my mortality have surfaced and I can no longer take the car for granted. Perhaps this will happen to you when you hit sixty so relish the remaining years of your youth Meike.

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