Reading module 8



Seamus Heaney

Digging & Follower








Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen tests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound                            

When the spade sinks into gravely 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 knew was levered firmly.                                                      

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep                                         

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,                                                    

Loving heir 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 tests.                                                                                                

I’ll dig with it.


Digging. Seamus Heaney.






My father worked with a horse plough,

His shoulders globed like a full sail sturng

Between the shafts and the furrow.

The horses strained at his clicking tongue.


An expert. He would set the wing

And fit the bright-pointed sock.

The sod rolled over without breaking.

At the headrig, with a single pluck


Of reins, the sweating team turned round

And back into the land. His eye

Narrowed and angled at the ground,

Mapping the furrow exactly.


I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,

Fell sometimes on the polished sod;

Sometimes he rode me on his back

Dipping and rising to his plod.


I wanted to grow up and plough,

To close one eye, stiffen my arm.

All I ever did was follow

In his broad shadow around the farm.


I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,

Yapping always. But today

It is my father who keeps stumbling

Behind me, and will not go away.


Follower. Seamus Heaney






            I am going to start analyzing the first poem, Digging. It is a poem that shows how Heaney, when he was a child, felt when he looked at his grandfather working, and how he still remembers perfectly all those moments he spent staring at his grandfather working.


In line 2 he makes a relation of his pen and a gun. This means he considers his pen a powerful weapon with which he can use to write and bring his memories back to the present. He kind of ‘digs’ in his memories to talk about his past in a brilliant way.


When he writes in lines 6 and 7 ‘Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds, Bends low, comes up twenty years away’ he is reminding his grandfather digging a long time ago. He ‘bends low’ from his window and looks down at his grandfather digging, but that is not happening in that exactly moment, he is just writing. He is remembering old times. But in the way he is writing this poem it seems he still feels his grandfather as if he was still alive.


Heaney feels proud about his father and about his grandfather. In this poem it is reflected in lines 17 and 18: ‘My grandfather cut more turf in a day than any other man on toner’s bog’. In the next four lines of this stanza he is saying that his grandfather, even being old, works very hard. He barely stops working to drink some milk, ‘Once I carried him milk in a bottle…To drink it, then fell to right away’ (lines 19 and 21). Heaney feels proud of belonging to his family, a really hard working Irish family. 


I think the main characteristic of this poem is the brilliant way in which he describes a situation that happened in the past. It makes you feel that what he is describing is happening at the present, at that very moment. The author can still hear, see, smell, feel, and taste every single moment of his childhood. He is digging in his past and re-living his memories.


These two poems have a similar element, and it is that both of them show how proud Heaney felt of his elders when he was a child. In ‘Follower’ he is talking about his grandfather, but in ‘Digging’ he refers to both, his father and his grandfather.


Now I am going to analyze the second poem, ‘Follower’.  After reading the poem, when we look back at the title, the first thing we think of is of young Heaney as a follower of his father. In the first stanza he is describing the job of his father; he was a farmer, ‘My father worked with a horse plough…’ (Line 1).


In this poem, the same as in ‘Digging’, Heaney is showing his admiration toward his father. He is referring to his father as ‘an expert’ (line 5). In the third stanza he is evoking the physical effort that his father had to make while working, ‘the sweating…’ (Line 10). This stanza also shows how concentrated he was while doing his job; ‘His eye narrowed and angled at the ground, mapping the furrow exactly’ (lines 10-12).


There is an importance sentence in the poem that reflects what the poem is about, ‘All I ever did was follow, In his broad shadow around the farm’ (lines 19, 20). This shows how Heaney as a child wanted to follow his father’s steps.  He used to play all around the farm trying to imitate his father. We find some metaphors in this poem, such as the child's following in his father's footsteps and wanting to be like him. The father is sturdy while the child falls - his feet are not big enough for him to be steady on the uneven land’ (Heaney – poems, Andrew Moore, 2002, . Day of access May 22nd, 2006).


I think the last stanza is the most significant one. Here he is describing how he, trying to imitate his father, fell in the attempt, ‘I was a nuisance, tripping, falling’ (line 21).


In the last lines of this stanza he is talking about the present. Heaney is not a child anymore, and it is his father the one that is behind him. Heaney is not following his father anymore, the roles have been changed. I think this is a metaphor. His father is not really behind him, I think he is just in his memory and he will always stay in his mind, as the role man in his life that he could not follow. 


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