down and down for the good turf...

Seamus Heaney


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as 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 could 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, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, 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.


Here is a poem for the whole of life. And that includes, certainly, the world of writing – but it takes in so much more. The poem exudes with a personal history that is inseparable from myth.

Birthright. Legacy. Spend your days – all of them – just trying to get at the passing on here. You will, of course, come up short – but Oh the beauty in that trying.


James Owens said...

Yes. Heaney at his best. Where everything that is history is focused in the personal, where this "consonant music," as he calls it somewhere, is a relation to everything in the world.

Rachel Dacus said...

One of my favorite Heaney poems. Terrific that you found a video of him reading it, Heaney at different ages is an added dimension to this memoir/ars poetica poem.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks to both of you for the read and the listen.