Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Books for the News, Poetry

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)


Implicit in those lines is a view of poetry which I think is implicit in the few
poems I have written that give me any right to speak: poetry as divination, poetry
as revelation of the self to the self, as restoration of the culture to itself; poems as
elements of continuity, with the aura and authenticity of archaeological finds,
where the buried shard has an importance that is not diminished by the
importance of the buried city; poetry as a dig, a dig for finds that end up being

‘Digging,’ in fact, was the name of the first poem I wrote where I thought
my feelings had got into words, or to put it more accurately, where I thought my
feel had had got into words. Its rhythms and noises still please me, although there
are a couple of lines in it that have more of the theatricality of the gunslinger than
the self-absorption of the digger. I wrote it in the summer of 1964, almost two
years after I had begun to ‘dabble in verses.’ This was the first place where I felt I
had done more than make an arrangement of words: I felt that I had let down a
shaft into real life. The facts and surfaces of the thing were true, but more
important, the excitement that came from naming them gave me a kind of
insouciance and a kind of confidence. I didn’t care who thought what
about it: somehow, it had surprised me by coming out with a stance and an idea
that I would stand over:


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.

From “Feeling into Words” in The Poet’s Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art (edited by Reginald Gibbons)