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Both poems deal with the unearthing of potatoes from the ground, a very basic act of obtaining food for the Irish for generations. Both paint vivid word pictures describing the breaking of the soil and the uncovering of the potatoes.
The actual processes, however, are very different. "Digging" is the story of one man working with his spade and his personal strength -"The coarse boot nesteld on the lug, the shaft against the inside knee was levered firmly." - while "At a Potato Digging" tells of the mechanized process - "A mechanical digger wrecks the drill, Spins up a dark shower of roots and mould."
Potatoes are gathered, treasures for future consumption in both poems. "Digging" notes the "cool hardness" as they are retrieved from the ground; "At a Potato Digging" describes the "solid feel" and comments that "fingers go dead in the cold."
The viewpoints implied by the two poems are quite different. "Digging" compares the spade to a gun, saluting the hard work of men who tilled the soil and of soldiers who fought and died and buried those who died in Ireland's historic conflicts.
"At a Potato Digging," on the other hand, contains many phrases suggesting the religious symbolisms that can be found in the practice. The persons gathering the potatoes are said to be fishing for the new potatoes, calling up Jesus's calling of the disciples to be "fishers of men." The potatoes are described as having "lain
three days in the long clay pit," in parallel with the three days Jesus spent in the grave.
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