The message in this poem is Heaney is feeling slightly Guilty for not following the footsteps of his father in becoming a farmer instead he became a writer. The guilt is brought arcross as Heaney is breaking a agricultural tradition in his family. The techniques Heaney uses in this poem are onamatopoeia “Squelch” for example. Also in the second last verse Heaney uses a listing device. Also he uses lieration “curt cuts” whichgive added ethisis. Heaney also uses roots to describe his family roots.
Heaney is effectively “digging” his memories at the instant he begins to write, he looks out his window and starts reminiscing about his past, he then becomes enthralled in guilt because he did not follow his grandfather, and fathers path, which leaves him feeling guilty and below them, he feels his forefathers were great men and he is not, however he still speaks of his pride in his own choice in a “pen is mightier than the sword” kind of way This poem compares his life to that of his father. He looks at the skill of his father and sees that he can never do what his father is so skilled at “digging”.
He describes in fine detail the art and mechanics of digging potatoes and the ease at which his father can do it. He compares the skill of his father digging potatoes to that of his grandfather digging in the bog, a completely different skill. Again he described in fine detail the art of digging turf and the sights and sounds that are part of it. The wonderful line that shifts time lines from the present , where he looks at his father perhaps clearing up a gravel path “comes up twenty years away” to him digging potatoes.
In the second last verse a line from each generation is compared and tells him that his that his only skill is to “dig with his pen” He knows that he can never be as good with a spade and feels that he is more comfortable with a pen. (snug as a gun) Repeating the lines in the last verse confirms this comfort and confirms his only way to match their skill is to “dig with his pen” I like to think this poem has that simple message. I hope you agree ! Someone asks about “ Toners bog” This is the name of a local bog, (a family name called Toner ) Seamus Heaney tries to explain a change in time with this poem.
He uses a good choice of language within this poem to effectively illustrate his views on an old tradition in many English towns. The mining off coal, gold and earth which is used to burn fires, these are all things that were apart of most common families that did this day in day out as a living. a change in time and of course educational circumstances and the fact that the mines and these methods of work have become irrelevant in modern times have made the person in the poem change, thus allowing him to have a different future through the pen, a good life not a hard one like his father and grandfather before him who used the spade.
He says within the poem that he has ‘no spade to follow men like them’ this is because that way of life has now become history and change has come by. For me, Heaney uses ‘the squat pen’ as his intricate tool of choice, the use of which for him, transcends that of a spade. the free verse style of the poem is used to enable this professed deviation from this traditional ancestral manual labour. Throughout the poem, Heaney displays nothing but respect for his ancestor’s particuarly his grandfather, of whom his memories are particuarly fond.
One can find examples of Heaney’s admiration and aspiration to the man when he depicts his inferior actions ‘corked sloppily with paper’ compared with his grandfather’s ‘nicking and slicing neatly. ‘ The use of assonance here also serves the emphasise the importance of his grandfather’s skillset. Heaney however in the penultimate stanza, realizes that he can never spark a passion for the ‘cold smell of potato mould’ and ‘soggy peat’ and the diction reflects this mood shift to disillusionment.
Overall, Heaney realises that in choosing ‘the squat pen’ over ‘the spade’ he is in fact ‘digging’ up memories of his ancestors, complementing and helping their work to be realised in this sense. So all in all, he draws the conclusion that whilst we must not forget our roots,we must pursue our passions and dreams in life. For Heaney, it is writing in which he finds solace, which enables him to transfer memories onto paper, giving old thoughts the power to transcend time.