Postmodernism began in the sixties as a series of reactions against the perceived norms of modernist literature. Both modern and postmodern literature represent a break from 19th century realism, in which a story was told from an objective or omniscient point of view. In character development, both modern and postmodern literature explore subjectivism, turning from external reality to examine innes states of consciousness. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_literature)

                        Related to Postmodernist Poetry, we have to list the followings:

-        Iconoclasm: it denies authority to the author, discounting his intentions and his claim to act as a spokesman for a period. The expected is also contradicted, often deliberately alienating the reader. We can find irony, parody… (http://www.textetc.com/modernist/postmodernism.html)

-        Groundless: Flat, media-like images that have no references beyond themselves are employed. The poets also regard both art and life as fictions, sometimes mixing the two in magic realism or multiple endings. They also argue that meaning is indeterminate, denying a final or preferred interpretation. (http://www.textetc.com/modernist/postmodernism.html)

-        Formlessness: Postmodernists repudiate modernism’s preoccupation with harmony and organic form. They also fragment texts, turning them into collages or montages and they avoid the shaping power of metaphor and other literary tropes too. (http://www.textetc.com/modernist/postmodernism.html)

-        Populism: Postmodernists employ material from a wide social spectrum and they avoid all that is serious and responsible, promoting the arbitrary and playful. Moreover, they encourage audience to participate, (http://www.textetc.com/modernist/postmodernism.html).






            Seamus Heaney was born in April of 1939 as the eldest of nine children at the family farmhouse called Mossbawn, near Castledawson, in Northern Ireland. His father real commitment was cattle-dealing, while his mother came from a family called McCann whose connections were more with the modern world than with the traditional rural economy. (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1955/heaney-bio.html)

            Heaney grew up as a country boy attending Anahorish Primary School in Newbridge, and then he won a scholarship to St. Columb’s College in Derry. In the same year, his family decided to move to another farmhouse in Bellaghy. When he was fourteen years old, his little brother was killed in a road accident; he would later write about that event in two poems. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney)

            In 1957 Heaney travelled to Belfast to study English Language and Literature at the Queen’s University of Belfast. He got the graduation in 1961. Then he did his teacher training at St. Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Belfast, and then he went on a placement to St. Thomas’ secondary Intermediate School in Belfast too, whose headmaster, the writer Michael MacLaverty, introduced Heaney to the poetry of Patrick Kavanach, being the first time he started to published his poetry (1962). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney)

            In 1963 he met Philip Hobshaum, who set up a Belfast Grouo of local young poets, which brought Heaney to be in contact with other poets of the town. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney). Although he is stylistically and temperamentally different from those other writers, he does shares with all of them the fate of having been born into a society deeply divided along religious and political lines. This had the effect not only of darkening the mood of his work in 1970, but also of giving him a deep preoccupation with the question of poetry responsibilities and prerogatives in the world. (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1955/heaney-bio.html)

            In 1965 he married Marie Devlin. In the same year, his first book, “Eleven Poems”, was published. In the following year, Faber and Faber published his first volume called “Death of a Naturalist”, which made him win a lot of awards. In 1968, Heaney took part in a reading tour called “Room to Rhyme”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney)

            After a lot of publications, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. In 1996, his collection “The Spirit Level” was published and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He won the same award after publishing “Beowulf: A new translation”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney)

            Lat year, 2006, Heaney suffered a stroke, from which he recovered, but he had to cancel all his public engagement for some months.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney)


            Related to his features, his work often deals with everything that surrounds him. This means Ireland, and specially Northern Ireland. We also can find hints of violence in his poems. In addition, many of his work deal with his own family history.

Finally, his influence is not restricted to Ireland, but is felt world-wide. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney)


3.     “DIGGING”


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as 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 could 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, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, 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.



4.     ANALYSIS OF THE POEM: “Digging”


In 1966, Seamus Heaney published his first collection of poems, called “Death of a Naturalist, which deals with the loss of childhood innocence and the following transitions into adulthood. In this collection of poems, we are shown his admiration for his ancestors, his own distorted view of nature and why he became a writer. (http://www.faber.co.uk/author_detail.html?auid=1996 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seamus_Heaney)

The first poem of that collection is “Digging”, which is the reconciliatory expression of an artist who will not follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps as a common labourer. It concerns his admiration for his father’s and grandfather’s skill at digging.  (http://www.universalteacher.org.uk/poetry/heaney.htm)


This poem is a free verse poem with eight stanzas containing two couplets. In addition, there is no consistent rhyme scheme, although it has some rhymes: “thumb” and “gun” (in the first two lines);  sound”, “ground” and “down” (in the second stanza); and “men like them” (line 28).

Moreover, it is written in first person narrative; we can see that in the first line of the first stanza: “Between my finger and my thumb”.

Related to the title, it is only when we have read the poem carefully when we realise that all the three generations are involved in digging: his grandfather dug turf, his father dug up potatoes, and he is digging up his memories and his past. So, the title is good and right, because reading it we can guess more or less about what we are going to be told in the poem; at least we can guess that the poem deals with digging.

Now, we are going to analyses the tenses used by Heaney: the poem begins in the present tense as Seamus Heaney describes seeing his elderly father straining among the flowerbeds, then it goes into the past tense when he remembers his father and grandfather at work. The last two stanzas return to the present, when Heaney realises that his work is to write. Ant the end, in the final line, however, it is in the future tense, to emphasise Seamus Heaney’s determination “I’ll dig”.


This poem symbolises the changing face of Ireland, from a rural country to a modern industrial nation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digging)


As we have said before, the poem is divided into eight stanzas, which we are going to analyse one by one.

In the first stanza, Heaney starts his poem introducing to us his pen. He says that it rests in his hand “snug as a gun”. This quote “snug as a gun” (line 2) gives the impression that the pen fits naturally in his hand.

In the second stanza, he is looking down from his window to see his father digging. This stanza is perfectly connected with the following one, in which we find he is looking back twenty years to the same place where his father was digging. The pause between these two stanzas indicates the gap that gap in the time.

Seamus Heaney continues describing how his father worked until the fifth stanza, in which he introduces his grandfather, who was a digger too. In the sixth stanza he remembers one day he went to see how his grandfather worked.

In the penultimate stanza, Heaney gives us “the cold smell of potato mold” (line 25), the sound of “squelch and slap” (line 25)… all this, help us to make more vivid what he describes. Moreover in that stanza he realises that his work is writing and not digging: “I’ve no spade to follow men like them” (line 28).

In the last stanza Heaney repeats the opening lines “Between my finger and my thumb / the squad pen rest”. Now the image of the pen as a gun is replaced by “I’ll dig it”. So, now his pen becomes a metaphorical spade, which suggests that his pen is like his took, as the spades were the tools of his father and grandfather. So, he will continue with his work, digging in his memories through writing.





The poem, “Digging”, is, maybe, one of the most important poems of Heaney, and it is also one of the most representative poems of him, because in it we can find his most important features as a writer: writing about everything that surrounds him, which means Ireland, and specially Northern Ireland and writing about his own family history.

“Digging” compares the poet’s pen to the farmer’s spade, depicting Heaney’s early struggle to define himself as a poet. That means that he will break the family tradition of physical labour as an occupation. So, in my opinion, Heaney wrote this poem to justify his decision to become a poet.