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In this essay I will be comparing and contrasting ‘Digging’ by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney with ‘Catrin’ by the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. I will begin by discussing the aspects of ‘Digging’ which includes the title, content, theme, setting, style, message and my own personal response. I will also explain what the two poems are about.
Following the discussion of ‘Digging’ I will then compare it with the poem ‘Catrin’.
The tittle ‘Digging’ creates a lot of images and plans many scenarios towards what it actually stands for. What it tells me about the poem is that ‘Digging’ is the main feature and could be used to compare with other activities. It shows it’s about people digging with shiny spades on dirty parts of land.
The setting of the poem changes due to Heaney’s memories of his father and grandfather.
In stanza three Heaney describes where his father’s place of work is situated. To do this he added the purpose towards what he is actually digging for.
” Til his straining rump among the flowerbeds. The potato drills where he was digging.” (Stanza 3)
The thought of flowerbeds and potatoes creates images showing neatly spread out rows upon short, green beautiful grass. The flowerbeds add pride to where he is digging as it shows it’s a place well kept.
To me, this scenario is described in a way that is based on an allotment.
Seamus Heaney describes where his grandfather digs from stanzas six to eight.
“Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods over his shoulder, going down for the good turf.” (Stanza 7)
I used all of stanza seven as a quote because the words written are all relevant to describe where his grandfather works. It proves that where his grandfather digs differentiated from where his grandfather digs. This also proves that the setting changes due to Seamus Heaney’s memories of his father and grandfather. The differences between the settings are shown by key words in stanzas. “Good turf” and “Sods” show that where his grandfather digs is based on a field. “Flowerbeds” and “Potatoes” shows that where his father digs is based on an allotment.
The style of the poem is written in a common way. The layout consists of short effective paragraphs that includes passionate descriptive writing about his life. The literacy device Seamus Heaney uses consists of onomatopoeia throughout parts of the poem. What this means is that the formation of a word whose sound suggests its meaning. An example of onomatopoeia is used in stanza two.
“A clean rasping sound”. (Stanza 2)
When Seamus Heaney is describing what he can hear under his window, he uses the word “Rasping” to prove to the reader what it actually sounds like. The effect on using this device, when reading, the word “Rasping” creates an image showing a spade scraping against a rough surface.
Another effective use of onomatopoeia is shown in stanza seven. In his stanza he is talking about how his grandfather works and what he does. To create that image for the reader showing his grandfather cutting turf, Seamus Heaney uses the word “Slicing”. Comparing with the example before there is no difference to as he effect it gives off. The achievement of these onomatopoeic words is that they give a clear understanding to the reader. As the poet is describing what he can see and hear, using the words “Slicing” and “Rasping” the reader will also see and hear the same.
Throughout the poem Seamus Heaney describes the different kinds of digging work his father and grandfather does. He also describes how they work and the techniques they use.
“Against the inside knee was levered firmly”. (Stanza 4)
This quote is describing his father’s technique on how to stand and hold the spade. This technique to Seamus tells him that his father has been doing this kind of work for a long time. The technique was a family trade passed down from his father, which is Seamus’s grandfather.
“By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.” (Stanza 5)
As his father got his techniques from his grandfather, he also describes about his grandfather’s way of digging.
“Slicing neatly”. (Stanza 7) “Cut more turf than any over man”. (Stanza 6)
The “Slicing neatly” quote proves that he was good at his job.
It also shows that he had a commitment for what he was doing. Like his son, his technique must have been of high quality. The quote “Cut more turf than any other man” shows that he was a quick worker but also shows that Seamus is proud of what his father and grandfather do.
The overall message that Seamus Heaney is trying to inform is that you don’t have to follow in your family’s footsteps.
“But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.” (Stanza 8)
I think what this quote means is that from the start, Seamus Heaney knew that he could never be as good at digging as his father and grandfather. It might not have been that he didn’t want to, I think it’s just that he didn’t want to disappoint his family’s tradition by doing it wrong.
“The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it”. (Stanza 9)
In the end Seamus Heaney’s decision to become a poet was an understandable decision. Using the quote, Seamus couldn’t become a digger for all kinds of reasons but then described that he could write the same way as his family digs.
“By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.” (Stanza 5)
Using his family’s skills of digging, Seamus Heaney created a simile towards his occupation. He put his effort into writing like his family did with digging and dug with his pen like they did with their spades.
I thought the point of the poem was easy to understand in the way that the poet was trying to get it across. I think that Seamus Heaney was making sure that the reader would understand what it was like to hear his family digging with onomatopoeic words, “Rasping”. He wanted to make sure that the reader knew how good his family was at digging so that they knew he couldn’t compare with them. “But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.” (Stanza 8)
I agree with the message about not having to follow in your family’s footsteps or doing something you don’t want to do. If you are skilled at something else, like Seamus Heaney, that person should follow their instincts. It was also an amazing comparison to relate digging to writing.
“Pen rests. I’ll dig with it.” (Stanza 9)
The message in “Digging” was successful because it was written with a purpose and a meaning. In some cases, the message in the poem is written with out any thought towards the reader. This time Seamus Heaney wrote a message that had a meaning, which could be used in other peoples lives.
Following the discussion of “Digging” I am now going to compare it with the poem “Catrin” written by Gillian Clarke. The similarity between both poems is that they have a general link to do with parent and child. In “Digging” Seamus Heaney the poet talks about how his father works as a digger and that he couldn’t compare with him as his skills laid as a poet. In “Catrin” there is a bond between a mother and daughter. The mother can’t understand how her daughter has grown up since the day at the hospital.
The language used in both poems seems to be differed through most of the content. In the “Digging” poem the language used by the poet is presented in the way that he is talking about his family.
“Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds”. (Stanza 3)
In the “Catrin” poem the language is used differently, in fact quite the opposite. Comparing with the “Digging” poem, “Catrin” is written in a way that the mother is talking to the child instead of talking about the child.
“I remember you, child as I stood in a hot white room”. (Lines 1-3)
The way in which “Digging” is laid out is also different compared to “Catrin”. Seamus Heaney spreads out the poem into nine paragraphs. The language in all nine are about feelings but is harder to understand then “Catrin”. Gillian Clarke presents the poem into two paragraphs. One is about the past and the other present. This technique is easier to understand rather than Seamus Heaney’s.
For my conclusion I will be discussing the questions:
.”Which are the most significant links between the poems?”
. “What are the major differences between both poems?”
. “Is there more linking the poems then separating them?”
. “Is there one poem that you could identify more with than the other?”
. “Do you think one of the poems is more successful than the other in presenting its message?”
The most significant link between the two poems is of course the parent and child situation. In the “Digging” poem there is a father and son who have a bond. Even though the son didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps in digging, he described that he was going to write just the same, as his father would dig.
“The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it” (Stanza 9)
In the “Catrin” poem there is a mother and a daughter who also have a bond. The similarities are that the younger generation in both families takes after their older relatives even though they don’t do the same work.
The major difference between the poems is that in “Digging” the son is imagining about his father. He talks about how he remembers his father digging under his window and the sounds he use to hear. These are the memories of what has happened. In “Catrin” the difference is that the mother is talking about her daughter. She talks about the past but also talks about what’s actually happening in the present.
I think that the poems are more similar than dissimilar. My reasons are that in both poems the people in it are parent and child and both show the same feelings. In “Digging” the son shows that he is happy about the memories of his father. This is linked with the mother in “Catrin” who remembers the birth of her daughter, which is a pleasant memory to her.
I don’t think there is much difference between the poems so I couldn’t identify one from the other. The layout of “Catrin” though was easier to understand compared to digging. One paragraph of happy memories and one of worried feelings made it easy to get the message. In “Digging” the spaced out paragraphs made it harder to understand as the information was changing in every stanza. My personal opinion is that “Catrin” is a more successful poem as the layout of the poem made it easier to understand the message.