How does Seamus Heaney shows his family tradition in his poem "Digging"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One aspect of Heaney's poetry that is notable is the way that he uses his background growing up in Ireland and the life of his parents and his descendants as inspiration for his poetry. To Heaney, the lives of his predecessors are rich veins of gold that he can mine as inspiration for his poetry. Even though the humble lives of his father and grandfather seem rather banal compared to Heaney's life as a Nobel Prize winning poet, what Heaney does in this excellent poem is link the two together, exploring how important the family tradition is to him and how writing poetry is actually very similar to digging.

In this poem, Heaney expresses his desire to "follow" his father in the family tradition of digging, and this is aided by an extended metaphor that compares digging peat to writing poetry:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I've no space to follow men like them.

However the poem ends with the determination of the speaker to "dig" with the "squat pen" that rests between his fingers, thus following in the footsteps of his ancestors metaphorically.

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