Digging Questions and Answers
by Seamus Heaney

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How might one comment on the central theme of Seamus Heaney's poem title "Digging"?

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What is the central theme, if any, of Seamus Heaney’s poem titled “Digging”? Is the poem about agricultural labor? Yes. Is it about the apparent contrast between such labor and the work of a writer? Yes. More significantly, however, the poem seems to be about the ways values and ideals are passed down from one generation to the next, with each subsequent generation having the opportunity – if it so chooses – to reject the values of the past. Heaney’s poem, however, seems to endorse the idea of embracing the best values of the past, such as the value of hard work. By the end of the poem, the speaker has extolled both his father and his grandfather as rural laborers, but the speaker – who is not a farmer – has also extolled the value of working hard at whatever tasks one sets for oneself.

At the beginning of the poem, the speaker implies his own occupation as a writer:

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

The comparison of a pen to a gun implies the potential power of the pen and the potential influence of a writer. However, no sooner does the speaker seem to claim power for his profession than he looks out the window and down at his father, who is literally digging in the ground. This sight provokes a memory of his father twenty years earlier, digging for potatoes. This memory, in turn, reminds him of his experience, as a young boy, of watching his grandfather dig turf, which the Irish used to use as we would use fire wood. By the end of the...

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