"Digging" is one of the most widely known poems by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney and serves as the opening poem of Heaney's debut 1966 poetry collection, Death of a Naturalist. It begins with the speaker hovering over a blank page with a pen, preparing to write. The speaker then reflects on the work ethic and skill of his father and grandfather, both of whom worked the land as farmers. Though the speaker is breaking with that specific familial tradition, the speaker presents writing as its own kind of labor, with speaker vowing to "dig" with the pen.
Between my finger ...
... as a gun.
Under my window, ...
... I look down
Till his straining ...
... he was digging.
The coarse boot ...
... in our hands.
By God, the ...
... on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried ...
... good turf. Digging.
The cold smell ...
... men like them.
Between my finger ...
... dig with it.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Heaney Looking Back — Heaney reflects on his life and career shortly after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Heaney's Life and Poetry — A valuable resource from the Poetry Foundation.
Heaney in the Archive — Heaney reads and discusses some of his poems, including "Digging."
Ireland and the Potato — An interesting article about the relationship between Ireland and its key crop.
Heaney and Muldoon — Heaney interviewed by fellow Irish poet, Paul Muldoon.
1Between my finger and my thumb
2The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
3Under my window, a clean rasping sound
4When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
5My father, digging. I look down
6Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
7Bends low, comes up twenty years away
8Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
9Where he was digging.
10The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
11Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
12He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
13To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
14Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
15By God, the old man could handle a spade.
16Just like his old man.
17My grandfather cut more turf in a day
18Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
19Once I carried him milk in a bottle
20Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
21To drink it, then fell to right away
22Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
23Over his shoulder, going down and down
24For the good turf. Digging.
25The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
26Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
27Through living roots awaken in my head.
28But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
29Between my finger and my thumb
30The squat pen rests.
31I’ll dig with it.