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Seamus Heaney ~ an Irish poet

Seamus HeaneyA news report says that the Irish bard, Seamus Heaney, died today. It’s hard to believe poets ever die. I think there’s something immortal about this type of human.  But we’ve all got feet made of clay, and die we all do eventually, although I still think of death as a bad idea all around. Or, maybe I’m just in agreement with Woody Allen, who once remarked that he isn’t afraid of dying, he just doesn’t want to be there for his own. So here’s one of many by Heaney, famous for much more than this humble piece. I love it because he comes from a history dug out of the earth with a spade, but he created a new history digging through time with a pen.

If you go the Poetry Foundation’s site at this link, you can hear the poet himself read “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.