Heaney Remembered

All over the world right now people are remembering when they first encountered Seamus Heaney. I was sat in a classroom, aged fourteen, while a quiet, somewhat mousy English teacher began an impassioned recital of Digging. The chatter suddenly subsided and we listened as Heaney’s rhythmic words filled the room. Afterwards there was the usual teenage grumbles of poetry being silly, but I stayed silent. Heaney’s poetry was crafted with a lightness of touch that made it seem accessible to everyone.

Seamus Heaney

At university many tutors declared their undying Heaney love in class, slipping at least  three of his poems into their lecture slides. Whether you like poetry or not, Heaney’s impact on the world of  literature is immeasurable. So I’m going to go back to where it started for me:

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.

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