Friday, 30 August 2013

The Pen of Seamus Heaney


by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

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.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.


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.

From Death of a Naturalist (1996)

"Digging" was Seamus Heaney's first poem in his first major collection. He was born in a rural family of Northern Ireland and was a Catholic republican although he avoided becoming a spokesman for the Troubles. He never forgot where he came from. "He was a translator, broadcaster and prose writer of distinction, but his poetry was his most remarkable achievement for its range, its consistent quality and its impact on readers," reads The Guardian obituary today. 

Heaney won the Nobel prize in Literature in 1995. The first edition of the Death of a Naturalist Heaney contributed to an auction in aid of the writers' charity Pen and he wrote in pencil above the poem "At a Potato Digging" that the critic "Anthony Thwaite once described me (to my face) as 'laureate of the root vegetable'". 

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