What determines the path a person chooses in life? In the poem “Digging”, Seamus Heaney expresses regret that he will not follow in his father, and grandfather’s footsteps in becoming a laborer, but instead would rather further his skills in writing. Heaney transmits this message through a variety of literary techniques. The central literary feature is the number of sensory images Heaney uses in order to convey all the aspects of the scene, which contribute to the reader’s understanding of the situation. Heaney also uses sound effects, unique structure, and shifts in verb tense to further communicate his message. “Digging” makes us consider the path we’ve chosen in life, and makes us understand that it’s okay to choose something different as long as it’s something we’re passionate about.
In this poem, Heaney uses many sensory images in order fully convey his experience to the audience. The main tool he uses are visual images to create a picture in the reader’s mind. In line 4, he writes “gravelly ground”, which tells the audience the ground is probably not only soil, but also has sand and rocks in it. Another visual image is on lines 10-11, where the words “nestled”, “inside knee”, “levered firmly” show Heaney’s father was very comfortable with digging, and was second nature to him. In addition, on line 20, he writes “corked sloppily with paper.” which shows the paper was crumpled and corked quickly without much thought to the process. Finally, on line 26, the “curt cuts of an edge” create an image of the ground being divided perfectly into little squares.
The second kind of imagery Heaney uses is tactile. On line 10, “coarse boot” provides something the reader can touch. Again, on line 14, we can feel the solidity and freshness of the potatoes: “their cool hardness in our hands.” Heaney allows us to feel exactly what he felt and makes us feel like we’re really there. Finally, the last tactile image he uses is on line 26, “Of soggy peat”, which produces a tingly feeling on your hands as if they were moist because of the peat.
In order to complete our experience when reading this poem, Heaney also uses olfactory imagery. The “rasping sound” of the spade in the ground adds to the visual imagery because it provides two aspects of imagery to the scene, which creates a very clear picture in the reader’s mind. Also, the “squelch and slap” of the peat not only provides very specific sounds of the peat but also is an alliteration.
Throughout the poem, Heaney uses many sound effects that add to the tone of the poem. In the first and second stanzas, he uses imperfect rhyming: “thumb”, “gun”, and also “sound”, “ground”, and “down”. However this rhyming scheme is only in the beginning of the poem because as the poem progresses, so does this scheme, and becomes less and less important to the message of the poem.
In addition, the poet uses alliterations to add effect to the poem and keep it flowing while adding flair. The “spade sinks” into the “gravelly ground” creates a feeling of heaviness and emphasizes the weight of the soil. In stanza 6, the depth of the ground is emphasized through “down and down”, “digging”. This alliteration also produces a heavy atmosphere and adds to the challenge of digging.
The structure of this poem is very important to the meaning and message Heaney is trying to convey. He starts out by talking about himself, then switches to his memory of his father digging which is where Heaney switches to the past. Halfway through the poem, he moves from his father, to his grandfather, and his skill at digging. Finally, in the last stanza, he switches back to the present, and brings the focus back to him and his career choice.
“Digging” is full of literary techniques, such as vivid imagery, specific sound effects, and exclusive structure, in order to emphasize the reasons for the poet’s path in life. Throughout the poem, Heaney realizes that his calling and skill in life is writing and not digging. He writes this poem in order to show off his skill and prove talent. This is truly shown in the last stanza when he presents the reader with “tool” which is his pen. Heaney will continue his work, digging apart his vivid memories through his expressive writing.