Tag Archives: Seamus Heaney

#244: On Listening to Students Talk about Seamus Heaney’s Poetry


Over three
days I listened
to 24 young
people talk
for 20 minutes
a piece about
literature, and 10 of
those 20 minutes
were dedicated to
speaking about
a single poem
by Seamus Heaney.

Most of them
did fine work,
but I couldn’t help
recognize and remember
and then start to
record particular
phrases or beginnings
that I think I heard
over and over again.

To wit:

K. So.
This one.
First I thought.
I’d like to begin.
What I noticed first.
What I noticed right away.
I think.

The title.
In the first stanza.
The speaker.
As the poem progresses.
The audience.
And then.
In the middle.
And then.
Finally, the last.

K. So. Um.
Uh. And stuff like that.
The occasion.
Eventually, the purpose.
In this poem.

Regarding structure.
Seven, five, ten, four,
whatever is half of a
pentameter. Rhyme,
off-rhyme, slant rhyme,
near rhyme, maybe if you heard
it in an Irish accent,
there would be more rhyme.
Lost innocence,
The Troubles,
Capital letters at the start,
bog bodies.

This is a poem.

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#56: For Seamus Heaney


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

from “Digging” by Seamus Heaney

For Seamus Heaney

Many years ago now I wrote a poem about my father
inspired by Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,”
the first Heaney poem I ever read.
In the same way the poet continues
his father’s work on the potato farms in Ireland
by digging with the pen, uncovering his family history,
the history of his people and their land,
I tried to trace my own
need to dig to some glimpse of my father’s life
as a young man.  My dad, like Heaney’s dad,
was not literary, but neither was he a farmer
or a man given to laboring with his hands.
But I remembered as a child seeing a love note
my dad had written to my mother at the very
beginning of their 50 plus years of marriage.
There was that glimpse, there, not nearly
as rich as Heaney’s metaphor, but at least
a small hint of where the words in my world
might have originated–in an impulse, perhaps,
the only discovered one of it’s kind in an entire life,
to write something that could make a difference
to another human being.  For that, I thank my father.
And for the poem that nudged me in that direction
and the hundreds of other poems left to us
by Seamus Heaney, I feel an almost unfathomable
gratitude. In Heaney’s potato drills, his wells,
his bog land, and in his Troubles, we see almost
an entire world, our world, reflected back at us,
throbbing, glistening, beckoning for our
most conscious attention.

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