What are some examples of imagery in Seamus Heaney's poem "Digging"?

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In Seamus Heaney's poem "Digging," the speaker describes his ancestors' digging using imagery and considers his own writing as his form of "digging."

The speaker begins by referencing a more figurative form of digging, as his "squat pen rests" between his fingers, "snug as a gun." This short stanza includes some imagery, as we can picture the speaker holding his pen. The simile "snug as a gun" also conveys how tightly he is holding the pen and how it seems to fit there.

Most of the imagery, however, is in the stanzas of the poem where the speaker describes his father and grandfather literally digging. Stanzas three and four are heavy on imagery:

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
Because of the details the speaker describes, the reader can imagine the speaker's father squatting (a nice reference to "squat pen" in the first stanza) and "rhythm[ically]" shoveling in gardens and crops. The father's "coarse boot" and its placement on the soil is described using imagery, as well. The speaker even conveys how it felt to hold potatoes, "their cold hardness in our hands."
The speaker next says that his father was very good with a spade, as was his father before him. This marks a transition to the speaker's description of his grandfather's digging. The speaker explains,
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The description of the speaker bringing his grandfather a gottle of milk, his drinking the milk, and his continuing to "Nicking and slicing neatly" paints a vivid scene in the reader's mind. The rhythm of the spade is captured well in the last few lines of the stanza as the speaker portrays his grandfather's digging.
Next, the speaker uses imagery to recall his memories associated with his father's and grandfather's actions. He writes,

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 spade to follow men like them.
The imagery and alliteration in this stanza work together to convey the vivid memories the speaker associates with his ancestors. He recognizes, though, that he is not talented in that kind of work. The poem becomes more figurative once again as it concludes. The speaker has "living roots" in his mind that inspire his poetry, but he cannot literally dig the way his father and grandfather did. Instead, he digs into his memories to create poetry. So, the speaker ends the poem by going back to the original image of him holding a pen and makes the comparison more direct by saying, "I'll dig with it."
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Imagery helps us make mental pictures by appealing to one or more of our senses. It might be a useful exercise to underline each image you see (or hear, smell, etc.) as you read the poem. For example, in the second stanza, I hear a "clean rasping sound" and see how a "spade sinks" into the ground, so I would underline these words.

In this poem, it's important to also think about why Heaney uses so much imagery. Sure, it helps readers to better envision the scene he is describing, but images are also important to the speaker in the poem. The speaker sees his father working in the flowerbeds below his window, and this evokes images in the speaker's mind of his father working as a potato farmer twenty years earlier. The images of his father handling a spade evoke further memories of the speaker's grandfather, who also did manual labor in the fields (digging for turf). The image of the speaker's father and grandfather with their spades is compared to the speaker's own spade-like tool—his pen. It's important to think about how all of these images relate and contribute to the overall themes of the poem.
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Imagery is something an author includes in order to help a reader create a mental image of what is being described. Most imagery appeals to one of the five senses: taste, touch, sight, sound, or smell. In regards to Seamus Heaney's "Digging," much imagery is used. 

First, Heaney appeals to the sense of touch by mentioning his finger and thumb. An engaged reader may begin to rub his or her finger and thumb together to gain a sense of the initial image provided here. 

Next, Heaney offers readers a simile. Comparing a pen to a gun, readers can sense what either, or both, feel like. Those familiar with holding a gun can picture the weapon in their hand. 

The third sentence appeals to the sense of hearing. The "rasping" sound of the spade hitting the rocks is relatively familiar. While not all readers may be familiar with a spade, most are familiar with the sound metal makes when it hits rock. 

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What are examples of figurative language in Digging by Seamus Heaney?

Ordinary prose speech uses the grammatical structure of sentences as an organizing principle. Figures of speech depart from ordinary language either by using organizing principles (such as sound) in addition to grammatical structure or by using words to mean in unusual ways. 

Although Seamus Heaney's "Digging" is written in free verse and does not have a regular rhyme scheme, it does use occasional rhymes such as "sound-ground".

Another figure of speech used in the poem is assonance, which is repetition of vowel sounds. This can be seen in the pair "thumb - gun". 

Alliteration, or repetition of consonants or consonant groups is used in phrases such as "tall tops" and "gravelly ground". 

The poem as a whole is an extended metaphor, comparing the digging of his ancestors using a spade as a tool to dig into the earth and his own writing, which employs a pen as a tool. 

 

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What are examples of figurative language in Digging by Seamus Heaney?

Figurative language allows a writer or poet to create visual images of events, occurrences, objects, people and so on in order to enhance a description of something without literally describing it which may be a boring process. In Digging by Seamus Heaney, Heaney talks about potato farming in Ireland, his native home. 

The narrator fondly remembers his father and grandfather before him and their contribution to the land and he wants to make it understood that their work was essentially difficult. The spade makes a "rasping" sound - onomatopoeia (when the sound is associated with the action)- and this ensures that the reader has a good mental picture and can imagine the sound which is then reinforced by alliteration, " the spade sinks into gravelly ground" as the "s" is repeated and the "g" is repeated to give an almost lyrical tone to the action. 

As he continues, the reader can perceive that the narrator's father is dead as the narrator speaks of "twenty years away," which is a euphemism for his father's death. An almost wistful and romantic image of potato farming develops from here and the narrator is immensely proud of his "roots" be they potato roots as they are pulled from the ground or his heritage. This then is a play on words as "roots" has a double meaning. The narrator also extends the metaphor of "digging" through the "roots" association. The fact that he intends to "dig" with his pen suggests that he will make his family proud of his achievements although he will be writing not farming. 

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What are examples of figurative language in Digging by Seamus Heaney?

"Digging," by Seamus Heaney, contains multiple examples of figurative language. Figurative language, or poetic/rhetorical devices, is where an author manipulates language in order to make the text more vivid. Examples of figurative language used in Heaney's poem are as follows.

Repetition-- Repetition is where a word or phrase is repeated for effect. Line one contains repetition: "between my finger and my thumb." 

Alliteration-- Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound within a line of poetry. Line one also contains alliteration: the repeated "m" sound in "my." 

Simile-- A simile is a comparison between two unlike or dissimilar things (using "like" or "as"). Line two contains a simile: "The squat pen rests; snug as a gun." Here, a pen is compared to a gun. 

Personification--Personification is the giving of human characteristics to non-human/non-living things. Personification can be found in line two: "The squat pen rests." Here, the pen (an inanimate object) rests (something humans, not pens, do). 

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