Study Guide

Digging Stanza 4

By Seamus Heaney

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Stanza 4

Lines 10-11

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

  • Just when you thought you were done, it's still tool time, friends.
  • The coarse boot belongs to the father, and it's probably coarse because it's a beat-up old work boot. A lug refers to the top of the blade of the spade, which sticks out on either side of the shaft, or handle. Stepping on the lug and putting all your weight on it helps sink the tool into the ground, so you can dig your hole.
  • When he says the shaft is levered firmly on the inside of his father's knee, it just means that he's got a good hold on it, so he won't lose his balance when he digs the spade into the earth.
  • Got all that? It's just some technical digging jargon, in the end (just put a bit more poetically).
  • All right, so far here's our tool count: pen, gun, spade. Is it just us, or do you think this poem might be deeply concerned with work, and the tools it takes to get that work done?

Line 12

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

  • The "he" still refers to the father, and we're still in that memory from twenty years ago, which we can tell because the speaker is still using the good ol' past tense.
  • The speaker's old man is still working on the potato drill. "Rooted out" means he found the potato tops by digging them up.
  • The "bright edge" is the edge of the shovel's blade, and our speaker probably calls it bright because it's made of some sort of metal, as most spades are.
  • What's up with all the alliteration here ("tall tops"; "buried the bright edge")? Do these repeated sounds at the beginning of words change the way you read this line? Shmoop thinks it almost makes it sound more mechanical: as if his dad is a machine as he works. That's just us, though: what do you think?

Line 13-14

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

  • Up until this point, our speaker was talking about his father as if he were alone, but "we" pops up in Line 14. Looks like the father and son are doing this work together. Or at the very least the son is hanging around while the father works.
  • The "cool hardness" refers to the way the potato feels when it's pulled from the earth, almost like a rock. Note, too, that again the speaker is talking about the way something feels in his hand, only this time instead of a pen, it's a potato.
  • P.S. More alliteration!

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