Write the summary and analysis of the poem 'At a Potato Digging'

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Seamus Heaney's poem "At a Potato Digging," features two contrasting depictions of a potato harvest.  In the first section of the poem, the speaker describes a modern potato harvest with "a mechanical digger" (1).  The second section provides details about what a healthy potato harvest should look like.  Heaney uses details and figurative language to create realistic imagery of the potatos' appearance.  He uses a simile in line eighteen, "like inflated pebbles;" the poet's diction suggests health and vitality; the earth has "good smells" and "a clean birth" of the potatoes, using a birth metaphor to describe the harvest. 

The third section of the poem offers a sharp contrast to the prior section.  In this section Heaney describes a time when the harvest was poor; his diction conjures imagery of sickness and disease with phrases like "blighted root" and "stinking potatoes fouled the land."  He carefully describes the famine's effect on the population by flashing images of the aftermath in tight, controlled phrases.  The people are objectified into parts like "mouths tightened in, eyes died hard."  His disgusted tone reflects the speaker's anger at the failure of the crop.

The final section of the poem is a revisitation of the scene in the first section.  Here, the workers sit and have lunch after working at the potato harvest.  Heaney uses their contentment and well-being to contrast the previous section in which the people were starving from the famine.  The workers "take their fill" on the "faithless ground;" the depiction of the ground as "faithless" personifies the earth as not only being uncertain and unreliable, but also suggests a relationship between the earth and the farmers, in which the earth has betrayed the farmers' trust in the past.

The poem has a loose iambic meter and a consistent ABAB rhyme scheme, which only breaks down at the end of the poem, reinforcing the poet's idea of the uncertainty of farming.


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