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by Seamus Heaney

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

  • This poem begins with the camera completely zoomed in. Heaney gives us an image of a hand (specifically the fingers) holding a pen. But the focus is all on the pen. The hand doesn't hold the pen, the pen rests in the hand. Who's the subject now, hand?
  • Then the speaker throws a startling simile at us. In his hand, the pen feels like a gun.
  • While it doesn't quite look the same, both holding a pen and a gun require your finger (on the trigger if you're holding a gun) and your thumb, of course.
  • Oh, and both pens and guns are tools, albeit for totally different jobs.
  • What's so weird about this is that we typically think of writing as something peaceful and contemplative, which is what the word "snug" makes us think of – snuggled up, tight, secure.
  • Yet our speaker jolts us awake by saying that writing is like holding a gun, which conjures up images of violence and unrest. Why do you think Heaney would compare these two totally different objects in such a way?
  • Notice anything interesting about the sound of these lines? Well, they almost rhyme, sure, but there's some assonance going on, too. Say it out loud with us: "pen rests." Or how about this "snug as a gun." Hear that? The vowel sounds are the same, almost to the point of creating an internal rhyme. What effect does that have on the poem?

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