Poetry Club, day 9

I think at some point I gave up on including this one The Joy of Poetry, but it’s so good. Every writer should know it.

Laura Brown referenced this poem on her blog in a short entry titled “Writer’s Daughter.” I already liked the poem, but her personal reflection opened it up to me in a new way.

That’s the best way to take in a poem — personalize it.




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.


~ Seamus Heaney


Your turn.




  1. Y’all! It’s Seamus Heaney’s birthday! Go look at today’s edition of “The Writers’ Almanac.”

  2. My first encounter with this poem was on NPR. I was pulling out of the library parking lot on a gray day. There were no cars behind me, so I stopped and listened until it was finished. I remember the feeling I had when it ended. I’d been digging a long, long time by then, but didn’t know it until some old, Irish guy put it into words. There are some first encounters you never forget.

  3. Ah! The “Bends low, comes up twenty years away” got me right away. So unexpected, to get a unit of time instead of a unit of distance.

    Later I realized this stanza is kind of like the opening part in “The Lanyard,” where a scene in the present brings us back to a scene in the way past.