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What Are the Preoccupations of Heaney’s Poetry and How Does he Explore them Through Digging and An Advancement of Learning?

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John Jones Monday, 10 June 2002 What Are the Preoccupations of Heaney's Poetry and How Does he Explore them Through Digging and An Advancement of Learning? The Poem Digging deals with Heaney's relationship with his family. An Advancement of Learning deals with Heaney's childhood and his fears when he was young and now that he is older how he overcomes those fears. In his poem Digging Heaney is deciding on how he will use his poetry and its relevance to the work of his father and grandfather. He writes about his fathers job digging for potatoes and his prowess with a shovel, "The course boot nestled on the lug, the shaft against the inside knee was levered firmly", he makes the action of his father digging for potatoes sound professional rather than just a haphazard way of shoving a shovel into the ground. He reflects on the pride he has for his grandfather and how he takes pride in the fact that his grandfather "cut more turf in a day than any other man on Toners bog". He also takes pride when he takes milk out to him while he is working because he believes that he is helping his grandfather work, "Once I carried him milk in a bottle corked sloppily with paper". ...read more.


He describes the smell of the surroundings and the feeling when he walked over the peat, these are all his feelings in his rural surroundings as a boy, "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." Heaney brings up memories of his past and his childhood in each poem. In Digging he tells of the time he brought milk to his grandfather while he was working and the pride he felt because he thought he was helping out, "Once I carried him milk in a bottle corked sloppily with paper." In An Advancement of Learning he reflects on the fear the rat invokes in him and the memories of them terrorising him as a young boy, "When his grey brothers scraped and fed behind the hen coop in our yard, on ceiling boards above my bed". Throughout his poetry Heaney uses vivid language to describe his surroundings, he also uses language to help him accentuate feelings. In An Advancement of Learning he heightens the fear of the surroundings by making everything dark and gloomy "I considered the dirty keeled swans". When the rat turns up he makes things feel grimy and disgusting by using language, his language also helps him justify his fear of rats, "Smudging the silence: a rat slimed out of the water". ...read more.


The stanza itself is set up like an informal conversation to help him emphasise his feelings by making the poem more personal just like he uses the colloquial phrases. Heaney uses many poetic devices throughout each poem to give them a better "feel" and help him emphasise points throughout both poems. In Digging he uses many onomatopoeias to help the reader get more involved in the scene with the sounds of his father digging, "A clean rasping sound as the spade sinks into gravely ground" and "The squelch and slap of soggy peat" these are all words that sound like the actual action. He does the same in An Advancement of Learning to heighten his fear for the rats, "something slobbered curtly, close", "A rat slimed out of the water" and "Back bunched and glistening". Heaney also uses alliteration in his poems to give the scene a better feeling. In Digging, "When the spade sinks into gravely ground" and "The curt cuts of an edge". He also uses it in An Advancement of Learning, "The tapered tail that followed him". An Advancement of Learning in itself is a metaphor for facing his childhood fears the rats are as well as being an actual fear are an embodiment of his fears and when at the end of the poem he crosses the bridge he crosses over his fear and begins a new path free of his fears. ...read more.

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