Heaney grew up at a time in Irish history when there was controversy as to whether young men should work in rising industry, gain their education, serve in the military or stay with their familiar family farm. Heaney very obviously chose to gain an education as he won a scholarship to attend a Catholic boarding school when he was twelve years old; he then went on to go to college where he embraced knowledge (Seamus Heaney - Biographical). In “Digging,” Heaney uses images he gained as he viewed his father and grandfather to portray qualities applied in work which he plans to carry from older generations of work to apply in his own work as a writer. For example, he uses symbols such as a spade ...view middle of the document...
J. Heaney). It should also be taken into account while reading “Digging” that he is illustrating change of ideals in the bringing forth of new muscles versus old muscles. For example, lines twenty-six through thirty-one say,
“The curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”
In this passage Heaney explicitly shows that while he wants to follow in the footholds of his forefathers, he has chosen a different tool of power. Implicitly, he illustrates that while if he had taken the training necessary to become a potato farmer, he would have joined their example of farming, but he made a different choice to gain an education in English. The imagery used in the comparison of the pen to the spade illustrates the expertise he learned from watching the work ethic of his father and grandfather which he plans to exhibit in the new muscles he provides with the power of his pen.
In accordance to following his forefathers, Heaney gained insights pertaining to work ethic as a young boy by watching his grandfather delve down for what he says is “the good turf” (24) immediately following quickly taking a moment to drink a bottle of milk. This is his only break mentioned although it was brief. By not taking a moment to be distracted by his grandson and searching for the better turf, which would be used to plant new roots, Heaney explicitly captures the work ethic his grandfather lived to show. In the final stanza of “Digging” Heaney says that he will dig with the squat pen that rests between his finger and his thumb. In perspective, the spade his grandfather uses is the tool that he is working so hard with while he is “nicking and slicing neatly.”(22) Whereas Heaney holds his pen in his working hands to neatly enthrall his poetic voice in order to illustrate that he is “levered firmly” as the lug against his grandfather’s knee, loving his pen as he loved the feeling of cool potatoes in his hands. In order to show how he is going to measure up to his father and grandfather Heaney gives way for imagery to illustrate how the pen of power, even the pen of knowledge, will be his spade in likeness to the spade his father and grandfather used that...