Digging in the Spring


March 31, 2015 by Ray Yanek

Peasant Woman Digging Up Potatoes -- Vincent Van Gogh  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Peasant Woman Digging Up Potatoes — Vincent Van Gogh
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Quick post today, but one I’m really excited to write.  About a week ago, I had a student stop me in the hall.  Flustered and arms swinging, he told about this poem he read recently (which made me smile) but couldn’t remember the poem’s name.  He told me it was about gardening and he that he loved it.  He asked if I knew what it was.

Unfortunately, based on the broadness of his search perimeters, I was sorry to say that I couldn’t be much help.

Yesterday, the student approached me again.

He slammed a math worksheet down on my desk and said: “There it is.”

I looked up at him unsure of what the hell was going on.  I teach English, not math.

“The poem,” he said.  “It’s right there.”

I looked again and saw nothing but numbers and alien signs meant to torture the mind.

“No,” he said, “that’s the title right there.” He pointed to the lower, right corner and I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments I’m supposed to try to get out of them.

“You have to read it,” he said.  “because it describes gardening so perfectly.”

And it does– but it also does so much more.  It’s about being a writer and about going a different route than those that came before us.  I know he saw that and that made me smile too.

The poem is called “Digging” by Seamus Heaney.  I’m borrowing it from The Poetry

Foundation’s website.  The original post is here.



By: Seamus Heaney


Between my finger and my thumb

Seamus Heaney Source: Wikimedia Commons

Seamus Heaney
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging.  I look down


Till his straining rump among the 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.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a daynaturalist

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 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.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.


3 thoughts on “Digging in the Spring

  1. Really liked this one. Your Van Gogh illustration was a new one for me, but the style instantly recogisable. The poem reminded me of John, described in http://derrickjknight.com/2012/07/22/mudlarking/

  2. Pamela Liegl says:

    Students sometimes knock your socks off with their AH HA moments. I am impressed that one of our students found and felt so strongly about this poem. I did not recognize it, but in reading it, I could see my dearly departed dad out in the garden, in the fall, digging our potatoes to store away in the basement potato bin for winter consumption.


  3. Jsell says:

    Great post, Ray.

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