Study Guide

Digging Introduction

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Digging Introduction

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.

What is Digging About and 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.

Digging Resources


A Smattering of Heaney
This site offers a brief biography of Heaney, recordings to some of his readings, and helpful external links. Dig in!

Heaney in Depth
Check out more details on Heaney's life and work. Shmoop's going to have a Nobel Prize page someday, too. We just know it.

For the Lit Nerds
Here are some links to academic work about Seamus Heaney. Read, learn, and be dorky.


Heaney on "Digging"
Hear what the author himself thinks this poem is about (we should probably trust him). And also, best accent ever.

On Poetry
Check out this awesome interview with Heaney, in which he talks about the writing process. We could all learn a thing or two from a Nobel Prize winner.

Time for a Lecture
Heaney, among other poets, reads and lectures at the Robert Lowell memorial lecture. This is serious stuff.


From the Horse's Mouth
Check out this audio montage of Seamus Heaney reading "Digging." Is this how you pictured it?

Nobel Speech
Here, you can listen to Heaney's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. Pretty awesome, huh?


A Peat Bog for Your Viewing Pleasure
Or not – they're kind of ugly.

Potato Drills
They're not really drills at all.

Heaney as a Young Man
Check out the skinny tie!

We wonder what's so funny.

Historical Documents

Nobel Press Release
Here's the press release from the Nobel Committee. In it, you'll find out why exactly our Heaney was awarded the prestigious prize. (Hint: because he's awesome.)

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