Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
- Our speaker watches from the window as his dad bends, digging among the flowerbeds.
- The father seems to be working pretty hard. He is "straining," after all.
- Flashback alert! In line 7, when the speaker's dad comes up from his gardening crouch (you know, that squatting position you're in when you're in the garden – super attractive), the speaker imagines him twenty years away, which we take to mean twenty years ago.
- But before we jump back in time, take note of what his father is digging here: flowerbeds. That information might come in handy later.
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
- So what was happening twenty years ago in our speaker's mind? His father was digging potatoes, that's what. Potato drills, by the way, are evenly spaced rows of potatoes in a field. Nothing too confusing there. But it also refers to the act of drilling into the earth to make a hole in which you plant the potato.
- It seems the rhythm of the father bending and rising in his garden has sparked this flashback – it's the same pattern he used to follow in the potato drills, dipping down into the ground, then coming back up.
- Okay, so if the speaker is the son, and he's having a memory of his father twenty years ago, it's fair to say that the son is grown up, and the father is probably an old man now, right?
- Also, note the shift to the past tense here. Before this moment in the poem, we've been working in the present tense, but this shift to the past tells us we've entered a memory.
- Oh, and before we forget. Instead of flowerbeds, which are decorative, his father is now digging for potatoes, or food.