For Seamus

In case you have not heard, wonderful Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, passed away last week. In the past year, I have really fallen in love with his work and the great depth and meaning he slips into to such simple phrases. I was very sad to hear the world lost such a great, artistic soul.

He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1995, and is best known for his poems exploring the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

After visiting Belfast earlier this year, I was given a very small taste of the conflict there. It is hard to describe the heartache the region has experienced in the last hundred years. So much death and bloodshed. Heaney often pondered the role of the artist in such a conflict in his work. Never once did he use his work to take sides, despite the Catholic nationalist influence of his background.

His poems are beautiful and complex. He often talks of his life on the farm, or simple everyday experiences, layered with undertones of historical musings or political thoughts.  There is so much in a Heaney poem, that I am sometimes left breathless after a reading.

In honor of his passing, I would like to share “Digging” one of his most popular poems that just happens to be about writing.

Below is a video of him reading and the text beneath that. I feel his poems are best experienced when heard with his accent 😉


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.

2 thoughts on “For Seamus

  1. That would be a sad way to find out. No, I read an article sent by a friend I traveled to Ireland with. It was sad news to receive in any manner, I suppose.
    Sadly, I packed up all my Irish poetry for our move. I really want my copy of North right now! I guess I'll have to snuggle up with a pile of Heaney poetry and a good cup of Irish tea once the move happens. Honor his memory that way.


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