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Analysis of Poem 'Digging'

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Analysis of the Poem 'Digging' The famous Seamus Heaney has yet again impressed us with his many meaningful and skillful poems. After having written the poem "Follower", which describes his childhood dream, he had written up "Digging", which explains the events that followed after. Digging is a metaphor for the work Heaney had done. When he was young, he was inspired to become a laborer like his father and grandfather, but then, things changed and he eventually became a writer. The last stanza: "Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests. I'll dig with it," shows that he would still continue his father and grandfather's tradition of skill and hard work by using a different kind of tool - a pen. ...read more.


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 poet's grandfather is a hard worker, for he would even barely stop to drink. This, thus, made the young Heaney feel proud and admiration for his grandfather's accomplishments. The theme of the poem is likely to be admiration for the labor and skills of the author's father and grandfather. It can be seen in the lines: "By God, the old man could handle a spade, just like his old man," that his father is just as good as his grandfather in handling a spade to do digging and those physical labors. ...read more.


The structure he uses for the poem is an enjambment and a bit of rhyming. By using enjambment, the poem becomes narrative-like, the text appears to be transforming into spoken words, and that it is actually talking to the readers. By doing this, it seems like the author is narrating his own experience directly to the readers that is why, it appeals to them, for they can relate to the author. Although Heaney wasn't able to achieve his previous dream of becoming a laborer, he was still able to get a decent living - being a writer, for having touched the hearts of the people by sharing his experiences with the use of the different kinds of faithful words that are waiting to be put into texts for people to read. ...read more.

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Response to the question

This question asks candidates to analyse the effect of Seamus Heaney's poem 'Digging'. With regards to Response to the Question, the candidate here retained sufficient focus on the question and explored the poem's message, it's legacy, it's effect on the ...

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Response to the question

This question asks candidates to analyse the effect of Seamus Heaney's poem 'Digging'. With regards to Response to the Question, the candidate here retained sufficient focus on the question and explored the poem's message, it's legacy, it's effect on the reader, and the authorial intentions, if only briefly. To strengthen the answer, the candidate should have made sure to comment on the imagery the poem conjures up, as well as avoided veering in a writing style expected of maybe a review ("The famous Seamus Heaney has yet again impressed us with his many meaningful and skilful poems") - comments like these are not addressing the question and garner absolutely no marks. The question does not ask for a personal response of a biography, so no marks are awarded for this.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis here is fair, though quite a bit of what is written is fairly obvious when one reads the poem, even if for the first time. The candidate did well to correctly identify the message of the poem, but lacks any evidence that they have the ability to look much farther than what appears literal or "on the page", and this lead the candidate to run the risk of commenting too much on the feelings of Heaney within the poem, rather than commenting on the effect on the reader. They did comment on however, the feeling of pride felt by the three men in the poem, though neglects to mention that Heaney, for a very brief moment in the penultimate stanza ("I've no spade to follow men like them") feels a melancholy in that he was not able to find happiness in following in their occupational footsteps, as it were. TO ignore this line and generalise the emotions felt in earlier stanzas will lose candidates marks because they are not approaching their response with sensitive detail.

Another thing missing from this answer are the themes of rebellion against tradition. This contextual analysis would've almost automatically guaranteed the candidate no lower than a B grade because it shows an ability to think outside the poems in terms of words on a page. To lift the words off the page is a highly-valuable skill that examiners look for because it shows insight. A good example would be if they candidate had noted that, when Heaney was younger, it was considered the norm to follow in your father's occupational footsteps, but because of changing times, Heaney's rebellion against that and his desire to make a living from writing, whilst also reassuring the readers it's just as valid an occupation (the final line: "I'll dig with it") as labour, could be generalised towards sons breaking away from what is expected by their fathers in terms of continuing the legacy of the family, etc.

Comments on structure are entirely valid, providing fair insight in recognising that enjambment (run-on lines) give the poem the structure and rhythm of a narrative piece of prose, but to say "with a bit of rhyming" will win no marks as there is no commentary in the effect of rhyming. It may well have been just as good to not mention it all if the candidate could not find a reason for mentioning it, because as it stands, it's feature spotting, which should be avoided at all time when writing essays. This is because feature spotting does not give any exploration of the effect and by definition cannot answer any exam question if it is only identification of poetic devices e.g. - "Here the poet has used this, and there he has used that, etc., etc.".

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication is sound. Very infrequently is there any misuse of language and the candidate displays an adept use of complex punctuation and sentence structures. With very few grammatical errors, the candidate excels by making their points very clear, but it's just shame that no great point is ever made.

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Reviewed by sydneyhopcroft 15/02/2012

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