“Digging” – Analysis

Blog: Contrast the first stanza of the poem with the last, considering specifically the replacement of “snug as a gun” (2) with “I’ll dig with it” (31). What kind of attitude toward the speaker’s work does each phrase suggest? What does this slight change from the beginning of the poem to the end represent? Can you support your analysis with evidence from the middle stanzas?

I really enjoyed the way this poem was written and how it portrays its message of following you talents, but begin aware of what came before you. The first and last stanzas are the same, except Heaney added “I’ll dig with it” to the last stanza, referring to the speaker’s pen. As it says in the first stanza, the pen rests as “snug as a gun” in his hand, suggesting that he feels comfortable with the pen, and the pen fits well in his hand. Throughout the poem, he watches his father dig outside, “Stooping in rhythm through the potato drills.” He sees how well his father digs; how he has been digging for his whole life: “Bends low, comes up twenty years away.” The fifth and sixth stanzas describe the young man’s grandfather digging out his years as well. The speaker says, “Through living roots awaken in my head, but I’ve no spade to follow men like them,” connoting his desire to follow a different path. He takes the strong qualities that he has seen growing up in his father and grandfather, and uses them with writing. The last stanza says, “I’ll dig with it,” showing how he will use his pen to dig like his elders. The young man is breaking the tradition, however, he will still dig with the pen, symbolizing the spade, but this time through writing.


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