by Seamus Heaney
In A Nutshell
Seamus Heaney ain't no small potatoes. (You'll think that's a hoot once you read the poem, we promise.) This Irish country boy, who started out in a place as rural as rural gets, grew up to win the ridiculously hard to get Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Pretty impressive. Farm to fame: kind of like Carrie Underwood. Yeah, we just compared Seamus Heaney to Carrie Underwood. Sorry, Mr. Heaney (RIP), but we do love us some Carrie.
Despite all his awards and degrees and travels, when you get right down to it, Heaney is a still farm boy at heart. And this is never clearer than in the poem we're tackling here, "Digging." It's all about farming, Ireland, and his forefathers. He celebrates these things, and the natural world all around him, with vivid imagery, sensory descriptions, and a sense of music that becomes apparent the moment you start reading.
"Digging" is one of Heaney's earliest poems (published in 1966) but it's a good example of his work as a whole. The poem is devoted to the natural world, a sense of regional and family tradition, and is chock full of rhyme and other sound effects typical of a Seamus Heaney poem. So if you're looking for a good way to enter the wild (okay, not so wild) world of Seamus Heaney, this one's for you.
Why Should I Care?
Here's the thing. This is a poem about old men shoveling potatoes and peat in Ireland. It's not exactly dripping with suspense and intrigue. But still, there's a lot to love here, and we'll tell you why.
We all came from somewhere, right? Whether or not you're proud of your roots doesn't matter one bit. We all got our physical traits from our parents – eye color, hair texture, height, weight, funny-shaped head, and big feet. Whatever feature flaws or strengths you have, you can thank them for it. We all got our accents, our slang, and our beliefs from somewhere, too. If you're from Rhode Island or Massachusetts, you might say "wicked," and if you're from South Carolina or Georgia, you might say "y'all." We're a mixed up product of our parents and our environment. But we're not only those things. We're something else, too.
"Digging" takes a look at how we can be so incredibly rooted in a family, a tradition, and a place, and still be our own people, different from those who came before us. These differences don't exclude us from our roots and our past, but add another layer of variety to our personal identities. In other words, you can take the man out of the potato field, but you can't take the potato field out of the man. That goes for you, too.