Digging Questions and Answers
by Seamus Heaney

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What are the two meanings of the title of Seamus Heaney's poem "Digging?"

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Seamus Heaney's "Digging" refers both to the menial labor performed by the speaker's ancestors, which forms the ostensible subject of the poem, and the labor of writing poetry in which the speaker himself is engaged. The poem expresses the speaker's awe at and distance from the hard work and implicit masculinity of previous generations of men, and simultaneously claims a similar usefulness and importance for his own literary vocation.

Structurally, the poem begins and ends by calling our attention to the pen in the hand of the speaker as he writes a poem—presumably the one we're reading. These references bracket the main action of the poem—the physical work of first the speaker's father and grandfather. Heaney's description of their digging is replete with imagery that emphasizes the difficulty of their tasks; the men are "straining" (l.6), "stooping" (l.8), "nicking and slicing" and "heaving" (l.22). Perhaps even more importantly, their labor has tangible results. The speaker...

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