Which part of the poem “Digging” is repeated?

The first part of the poem “Digging” is repeated. “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests” reappears in the final stanza. Unlike the first stanza, which ends with “I’ll dig with it,” the final stanza finishes comparing the pen to a snugly held gun. Heaney frames images of his father and grandfather using spades to garden with a repeated image of his hand poised to write. Writing and farming are analogous acts of creation.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In “Digging,” Seamus Heaney begins and ends the poem with an image of his hand poised to compose a piece. The first stanza reads,

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

The last stanza repeats the first two lines of the earlier stanza; then, Heaney substitutes the last line with a simile that he appends to the second line with a semicolon.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

The repetition of this same image creates bookends to Heaney’s portrayal of his father and grandfather as farmers. The six stanzas in between the first and last stanzas focus on their acts of working the earth. By comparing writing to farming, Heaney demonstrates that these seemingly disparate vocations (one cerebral, one physical) are actually analogous. Heaney’s father and grandfather dig with spades just as he writes with a pen to produce unique items of value. Their digging serves as an extended metaphor for his writing.

In the beginning, Heaney’s hand hovers over a paper, grasping a pen, ready to begin—or “dig” into—creating poetry. Suddenly, he becomes distracted by

A clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging.

The poem juxtaposes an image of the poet ensconced at a desk on the second floor of a building with an image of an older man outside bent over and scooping dirt. Heaney’s writing instrument—a pen—is like his father’s tool for digging—the spade. Interestingly, the way Heaney grips his “squat pen” between his finger and thumb is similar to the way his father wields and positions the spade:

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

Heaney is about to “dig” into his writing process; similarly, his father is ready to step his weight on top of the spade’s blade in order to sink it into the ground.

Heaney, his father, and his grandfather all are planting, cultivating, and excavating fruits of labor. The poet thinks up and records ideas with a pen. He mentally “digs” in order to find words and images to create art. His father and grandfather till the earth with their spades, planting flowers, “root[ing] out” potatoes, and excavating peat. Their flowers and crops are works of art, like Heaney’s poems.

In the last stanza, the substitution of “snug as a gun” for “I’ll dig with it” is a bit surprising; suddenly the pen—which Heaney holds snugly—becomes like a gun. A gun is an instrument of destruction, not creation. A spade can be used to plant seeds and harvest crops; however, it also can be used to cut, crush, and destroy plants.

This startling connection between a pen and a gun suggests that Heaney knows that words can be wielded as weapons, as in the case of legal documents, hurtful lies, harmful propaganda, and more. As the adage states, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on