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.

Requiem for the Croppies
The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley...1
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp...
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching... on the hike...
We found new tactics happening each day: 1
We'd cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until... on Vinegar Hill... the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August... the barley grew up out of our grave.

The Early Purges
I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
Dan Taggart pitched them, 'the scraggy wee shits',
Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,

Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
Of the pump and the water pumped in.

'Sure, isn't it better for them now?' Dan said.
Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced
Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.

Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung
Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains
Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung

Until I forgot them. But the fear came back
When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows
Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens' necks.

Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
I just shrug, 'Bloody pups'. It makes sense:

'Prevention of cruelty' talk cuts ice in town
Where they consider death unnatural
But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.

Poems source:

Publication Date: All poems from “Death of a Naturalist” (1966)

           In this paper, I am going to analyse some of Seamus Heaney´s poems in order to comment some of the conflicts, problems, opinions… he has because of his nationality, (he is Irish) and that he states along his works.

            Seamus Heaney was born in April, 1939. He grew up as a country boy, in the midst of a traditional, rural…environment and family. His father’s family was more traditional than his mother’s family (McCann), which was more connected with the modern world than with the traditional rural one. This fact has always influenced Heaney´s poetry, within this mixture of the Gaelic past and the Ulster of the industrial Revolution; and this tension between past and present is always latent in his poetry. Despite that his family left the farm on 1953, his mind was always connected with the rural world and rural County Derry is the "country of his mind" where much of Heaney's poetry is still grounded. So, somehow, he has always considered himself a “country boy”. However, when he won a scholarship to St Columb´s College, he had to leave all the rural atmosphere behind him. This event also contributed to the deve-lopment of his poetry because he always had that divergence between that old tradi-tional life emotion and the fact that he decided to dedicate his life to studies and art. Another important issue that is reflected in his poetry is that he was born into a society deeply divided along religious and political lines, specially, after the 1970´s, when the conflict took a violent dimension. He had a deep preoccupation with the question of poetry's responsibilities and prerogatives in the world, since poetry is poised between a need for creative freedom within itself and a pressure to express the sense of social obligation felt by the poet as citizen.  He adopted a Pro-Irish patriotic and nationalistic perspective against British imperialism as he demonstrates in some patriotic poems, but the fact that the struggle was so violent, affected also his mood and poetry. So the main topics he deals within his poetry are conflicts between: Nature and Urban world; Tradition and Modern World; Past and Present; Ireland and England; and some romantic poems dedicated to and influenced by the figure of his wife: Marie Delvin-Heaney. (Seamus Heaney/ 

            .  As I have commented before, that confrontation between the rural traditional hard-working life and the modern and artistic way of living he lives, is present in a poem like “Digging” (1964). This poem is divided into 2 parts (1-14/ 15-31). Each part starts with a couplet and then develops into an iambic structure (the first part from short stanzas to long ones and the second part from long stanzas to a final short one, which is almost a repetition of the first couplet). So the poem has a very regular structure. Along this poem, the poet compares the vision of his pen between his fingers (as a symbol of poetry) and the vision of his father working. The poet uses very descriptive verses to praise the figure of his father’s work. The descriptions of the scene: the sounds, the rural elements, the actions… create a strong visual image of what his father is doing exactly and what he feels. After these descriptive verses, the author points one of his common topics along his poetry: the obsession with the past, where the author also praises his grandfather, as a representation of the family pride. The author relates a past image with his grandfather, in which he was carrying him milk and his grandfather drank it and looked at him tenderly as he could smell the turf and the potatoes. All these very descriptive images (very related with the sensitive perception) create in the author a melancholic mood, specially dealing with the fact that he could never be as them (he could never handle a spade) and he has to be “happy” just doing what he knows to do (handling a pen/writing poetry). So, at least, he can use that ability to praise his family and the past

           Concerning his political ideas and the feeling of oppression he has as an Irish from the British Empire, we can analyse the poem “Requiem for the Croppies” This short poem (14 verses) is formed by one stanza. The poem has also an iambic structure and rhyme and rhythm are regular. In my opinion, the poem is so short and regular that it can be considered as an anthem for the rights of Irish people against British, so its simplicity makes it easy to remember and sing. Furthermore, the poem is full of images referred to Irish people and land. The author uses many symbolic and metaphorical terms. The title of the poem deals with the death of the Croppies. The Croppies are the rebel Irish people with closely cropped hair, a fashion associated with the anti-aristocrat (and therefore, anti-wig, which fought against the French/British on 18th century to repeal an invasion (Croppy/Wikipedia). But I think the author uses this historical reference to refer to all the struggle of Irish people as a nation, and specially referred to the contemporary ages and resistance against British imperialism. The poet starts stating some references to some typical Irish symbols “pockets of our greatcoats full of barley”, “kitchens on the run, no striking camp”… and then empathises the union of the Irish as a nation: from the priest to the tramp (L. 4). However, despite the patriotic feeling and meaning of the poem, the narration of the events is quite tragic. The author focuses on the marching of the Irish as a country, as infantry fighting against cavalry; or the lower class fighting against the upper-class. However, finally cavalry cattle into infantry (L. 8) and they have to run away until Vinegar Hill: “The battle of Vinegar Hill was an engagement on 21 June 1798 between forces of the British Crown and Irish rebels when over 10,000 British soldiers launched an attack on Vinegar Hill. It marked a turning point in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 as it was the last attempt by the rebels to hold and defend ground against the British military” (Battle of Vinegar Hill/Wikipedia). Then, that hill became their tomb, because there was no possibility to escape. The last 4 verses are very sad because they relate the real fact of the death of that people, they died there without tomb or coffin, just the bodies. Over all, the most beautiful image is the relation between the first verse and the last one, because the poet connects the relation between what they were when they were alive: country boys with greatcoats full of barley; and what they were once they were dead, bodies in nature with the barley growing up over their grave. So the poem also empathises the obsessions of Heaney about past and present; the process of growing; life and death and nature.      

            The last poem I am going to analyse is “The Early Purges” (1966). This poem is divided into 7 triplets. The rhyme is (a, b, a, each triplet) and the rhythm is also regular. Along this poem, Heaney also reflects his obsession with life and death using a metaphorical meaning. The author relates one experience he had when he was 6 years old when his kittens drowned and “Dan Taggart” threw them on the garbage telling him: “the scraggy wee shits are better now in the place they are than before”. That event marked him, firstly because the scene was so cruel, and then because he did not understand it. Dan (I think it is an unreal name to represent anyone) repeated him again and again with  any animal he killed, that for sure, they were in a better place once they are dead. However, the author describes the meaning of that statement when he had to kill by himself the pups and he discovered than it is necessary to kill the animals to prevent illness and its spread. However the last stanza reflects another meaning the poem has when the author compares the urban life and the rural life, where the city people do not understand that cruelty with animals that the rural people employ to prevent pests. In my opinion, with this last stanza, the author is trying to explain the hypocrisy of town people because what they do is exactly the same, not only with animals, but with other people.

            In conclusion, as we can observe, Seamus Heaney is a poet who expresses his feelings and fears about Ireland and the Irish people in his poetry. I think that his poems are very dramatic and most of the times patriotic. Moreover, he emphasizes his life as “country boy” in his poetry to express his really knowledge about Ireland. He tries to connect with the feelings of the Irish people as a country, dealing with the past and the present events to praise the patriotic Irish feeling and that is the reason why his poems and his topics are usually about: Nature, history, his childhood, his civic function as a poet…


Irish History Stubs, ”Croppy”,, Ed. Jimmy Wales, 26th April 2006.

Battles of the 1798 Rebellion, “The Battle of Vinegar Hill”,, Ed. Jimmy Wales, 26th April 2006.

The Official Web Site of the Nobel Foundation, “Seamus Heaney”, NobelPrize,org, Dr. Alf A. Lindberg,
26th April 2006


                            THE TYGER                                                                             TO A LADY                                        

                SHE WAS A PHANTOM OF DELIGHT            VS                 SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY

                      THE LABORATORY                                                           THE BLESSED DAMOZEL

                 PORTRAIT D´UNE FEMME                                                      THE FIVE POEMS

                                                                              THE FOUR POEMS