The poem opens with our speaker at his desk. Pretty basic, right? But then, through his reminiscences, we move back in time to the potato field and peat bog where his father and grandfather worked. The past is rich with nature – the smell of dirt and potatoes, the cold air, the texture of the earth, and the sound of shovels cutting through it. While we know the speaker is only imagining the past, we feel as though we're right there with him, because he's imagining it so darn well. Heaney creates a vivid picture of the potato fields making good use of all five senses, then gently returns us to the present: our speaker at his desk, ready to begin his writing. Or should we say digging?
One other thing: we're pretty sure all the digging from our speaker's memories is going on in Ireland. For starters, our author, Seamus Heaney, is Irish. And of course, there's the whole potato farming thing. If we know anything about Ireland, it's potatoes.