Whilst thinking of what to have for dinner tonight I contemplated the idea of a jacket potato. This simple thought of potaoes soon trailed off into a poem by Seamuns Heaney I studied at GCSE level some years back now!
A very random trail of thought it would seem, though it led me into a pleasant day dream of the crisp, sharp, beautiful words and meanings of the potato poem, Digging.
In every stanza of this thought provoking poem, Seamus tells a childhood tale and describes a relationship with his Father and Grandfather. This becomes apparant through Heaney's flitting from past and present tense of his Father digging for potatoes the way his Grandfather did before him.
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 flower beds
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 father 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 that.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests
I'll dig with it.
The poem begins bluntly,
"Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests: snug as a gun."
This creates a feeling that Seamus perhaps see's himself weaker than his father. That his tool is not a spade used for digging up the potatoes, but instead a pen, with which he will dig deep into the paper with his words and thoughts. On the other hand the word gun is perhaps used to emphasise that Seamus is not weak and that although he may not be doing the manual work like his Father, his words are still strong and powerful.
The reason I love this poem so much is that, throughout, there is a constant feeling of love, pride, insecurity and emotion between Seamus and both his Grandfather and Father. I feel that is what gave him the strength to write such a powerful poem, which fills me with nostalgia for my Grandfather.
The excellent use of onomatopoeia creates emotion, smells and sounds, which are comforting and make me think back to the way I looked at family and people close close to me when growing up and how they have had an effect on my life today.
Corked sloppily, scatter, nicking, slicing, sqelch, slap! All lovely words that make this poem so loveable.
The poem ends as bluntly as it begins,
"Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it."
I feel the word dig here is used metaphorically as Seamus feels that he has inherited his Father and Grandfathers strength to work hard, dig hard for ideas and words for his poems, his field of expertise and the job he was meant to do. This is a firm statement allowing us to know that he is not weak and that his work is just as worthy as that of his Fathers digging for potatoes and providing food.
This poem brings back fond memories of my own Grandfather, his strengh both physically and mentally and the sights and smells of him working away in his shed. Fixing, building, his head never without his favourite cap.
“If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness,” Heaney said.
Whislt looking through the kitchen cupboards, deciding what to eat for dinner this evening, poetry certainly did that for me.