Appropriateness of the title of the poem “Digging” by Seamus Heaney

‘Digging’ is one of the finest poems of the poet Seamus Heaney. It was first published in his poetic collection- Death of a Naturalist in 1966. The poem is based upon a single but significant idea that digging has great value and need in life and everyone should admire the diggers for their skill, patience, and creative work and should also show them the respect they deserve.

The poet has started his poem in an interesting manner. At the very beginning of the poem, we find the poet sitting by the side of a window with a squat pen resting in between his finger and thumb like a gun. Down his window, the father of the poet was digging a gravelly ground with a spade to prepare a flowerbed. Sitting by the side of the window the poet was observing the digging operation of his father. He also remembered that even some twenty years back he had seen his father digging the soil to row the potato seeds in a furrow and replaced the old plants the new ones. The hard labor of digging had made the hips of his father toil-stressed. But resting firmly his coarse boots on the hard layer of the soil his father used to hold the handle of his spade firmly and bending his body, used to drive the corner of his sharp spade deep into the ground to uproot the tall leaves and scatter new potatoes. The skill of digging from his father reminded him of the digging skill of his grandfather as well. His grandfather was an expert and famous turf cutter in the entire Irish district where he lived. The dedication to his grandfather’s work has the skill and hard labor was a great lesson for the young poet. He was greatly influenced by both his father and grandfather.

At the very beginning of the poem, we find a contrast between the father and the son. The father was toiling hard in the flowerbed and digging the hard gravelly soil and the son waš sitting idly by the side of a window holding a squat pen in between his finger and thumb like a gun looking at the digging operation of the father. But as the poem advanced the picture changed and we tind that even sitting idly the poet had nothing but unqualified praise for the skill and stamina of his laboring father as a digger. The poet has dedicated the whole poem to describe, explain and eulogize the virtue of digging. He has given us three detailed images of digging. The first two images are of the digging operation of his father. But he has presented the image of his grandfather more elaborately. With a heart full of unqualified praise for this digging skill of his ancestors, he exclaimed

“By God, the old man could handle a spade
Just like his old man.”


The poet did not praise so much the physical strength of his father and grandfather in executing their digging operation. But he admired the skill of his ancestors, their expertise in digging up the things which have real value to human life- the food and the fuel. The poet Heaney is an Irishman by Birth and is family has agricultural tradition. Moreover, the Irish people are in general famous for their digging. Cultivation of potato is the first distinguishing feature of the people of Ireland. Heaney in his poem has eulogized the skill and dignity of the Irish people in doing their laborious digging activity.

Being inspired by the digging operation of his father and grandfather and the general characteristic of the Irish people the poet also wants to dig but he confesses his inability to dig the soil like his ancestors

“But I have no spade to follow men like them.”

So instead of the spade, he wants to continue his digging operation with a pen. He wants to dig the experience of his life both emotionally and intellectually so that he can bring out something of real value like the food and fuel of his father and grandfather. Destruction of the unhealthy old things and the creation of new things are the two sides of the same thing digging. Both human life and society always stand for this two things-destruction and recreation. They need it. The poet wants to do that thing with his pen. Thus-title “Digging is thus the absolutely appropriate title for this poem of poet Seamus Heaney