It’s National Poetry Day in the UK today, but it was the other day that I read Digging – again. Seamus Heaney remains my favourite poet of all time because of Digging.


It makes so much sense to have a whole day devoted to poetry and to involve the entire world in reading, creating, memorising and sharing poems at the same time.

There’s something quite luxurious about taking time out of the world’s madness to read a poem. I love that Seamus Heaney went in to schools and read his work to children; that he lectured poetry at uni; that he was totally immersed in words; that he shared so many images and so much of himself and his life with the world.

I love that he was rewarded for his work with awards and a Nobel Prize for Literature, and there’s a bit of me that thinks he probably felt more for the moments he read to children than he did for the Nobel Prize celebration he had with the Irish Prime Minister.

Digging is a poem that transports me to my dad’s garden. Like the granddad in the poem, my dad was always digging. Creating beautiful gardens. From digging in the black holes of coal mines to digging gardens that he filled with vegetables and flowers. His back bent over, his hands and nails rough with dirt.

Digging makes me feel comforted.

Poetry makes me feel comforted.

It should be National Poetry Day every day everywhere.


By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
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 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 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 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.

Seamus Heaney, Digging from Death of a Naturalist.

Listen to his own reading here:

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