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Digging

Structure
• The stanzas vary in size, as the lines do. This may be to show there is no pattern or
predictability in our memories

Language
• Blunt title- only when we have read poem do we find out all generations involved in
digging (father-potatoes, grandfather-turf, poet-memories/past/feelings)
• Varying tense
- Begins in present- describing elderly father
- Past tense- remembers father/ grandfather at work
- Last line- future tense- “ill dig”- emphasises Heaney acknowledgement of the
importance of his work too and his determination
• Descriptive language
- “spade sinks into gravelly ground”- alliteration gives the poem rhythm of digging,
- as do some verbs, “nicking and slicing”, which mimic the sound of the spade digging
• Feelings of respect and pride
- “by God, the old man could handle a spade”- this colloquial really stands out as it
sounds as if the poet just said it out loud and as if he is reminiscing proudly
- “old man...old man”- this repetition may show special connection between three
generations
- “heaving sods over his shoulder”- admires his grandfathers strength
• The poet’s thoughts
- “my god...ill dig with it”- some lines where the poet writes words directly- effective
because this makes him realise his skill is important too
• Sense appeal
- Penultimate stanza (smell-“potato mould”, sound-“squelch and slap”, sight-“curt
cuts”) makes it more vivid. Alliteration heightens this experience as we can hear the
sound and rhythm of the digging

Imagery
• Metaphors
- “coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft against the inside knee was levered
firmly”- this could just suggest that his father was very skilled, or it could be a
metaphor for how much his father loved the work, that the spade fit him just right,
to make him do this job as well as he can. Juxtaposition (side by side placing) of
“coarse boot” and “nestled” shows that although the job was manual labour, his
father feels lovingly about it
- The fact that he has “no spade to follow men like them” could again just be a
metaphor for him not wanting or liking the work, that he is not cut out for it
- “Through living roots awaken in my head”- talking about roots of potatoes and
family roots. Sad tone of the line after may suggest he feels guilty/sad for not
following tradition
• Simile
- “Snug as a gun”- how perfectly the pen fits in his hand and how well suited Heaney
is to write, just as his father/grandfather were suited to dig. Gun-symbol-shows gun
empowers him- the sibilance sounds soft and comfortable- reinforcing he is content
with his choice
• Enjambment
- Between second/third stanza- indicates gap in time
• Repetition
- Final stanza is the same as first but the gun image is replaced by “ill dig with it”-
pen becomes a metaphorical spade- pen is his tool, just as spades were fathers/
grandfathers tools. It also suggests Heaney wants to go back to his roots and dig
into his past through his writing
Sound
• alliteration
- “spade sinks into gravelly ground”- sibilance-sound of the blade through the earth,
g sound- gravelly resistance of the soil
• Repeated sounds/ rhyme
- “thumb...gun”/ “nicking and slicing”- mimics the digging action