"Digging" certainly takes skill. Plus, you need a tool – a spade or shovel to be exact. For our speaker, his only tool is the pen. It might not seem like much at first, but when you consider the old saying, "the pen is mightier than the sword," you just might change your mind. Though the speaker admits that maybe his pen isn't quite as great as the spades of his father and grandfather, you get the sense that by the end of the poem, he's decided to be as skilled as he possibly can with it. The grandfather and father are the very best at digging potatoes. Our speaker isn't so good at farming, but he knows that his calling is to be a writer. So why not be good at that, too?
Questions About Strength and Skill
In terms of strength/skill, how are writing and potato farming and/or peat harvesting similar? How are they different?
Which attribute, strength or skill – digging or writing – ends up becoming more valuable to the speaker by the end of the poem? Support your opinion.
Do you think Heaney is only referring to physical strength in this poem, or does he touch on any other different aspects of strength? If so, which?
What do you think the speaker's father and grandfather taught him about strength and skill? Does he carry those lessons into adulthood? If so, how?
Chew on This
In this poem, Heaney shows that physical strength is much more important than skill.
In this poem, Heaney shows that strength and skills come in many different forms.