Poem: Digging by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as 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 could 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, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, 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.


  1. The poet uses a simile in the first few lines, what is it and what effect does it have?
  2. Where does Seamus Heaney go as his father comes up from digging the flower bed? Explain.
  3. How do you think Heaney feels about his father and grandfather based on what you have read?
  4. How does Heaney appeal to our senses throughout the poem? Use quotes from the text to back up your answer.
  5. What is Heaney going to do with his pen? What do you think this means?
  6. How does Heaney feel about himself when he compares himself to his father and grandfather?
  7. How do you think Heaney’s father feels about his son?
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