Analysis of At a Potato Digging by Seamus Heaney

Analysis of language used in At a potato digging. Hope you like it x

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At a potato digging by Seamus Heaney Analysis
Section 1:
The first section depicts modern day farmers harvesting potatoes. The earth is
personified as Mother, which as this point in the poem gives the soil and nature a loving,
caring quality. Section one also suggests that this tradition of potato digging is ingrained
into Irish society through the phrase `processional stooping through the turf recurs
mindlessly as autumn'. There is no thought process in this event, and it is a natural and
habitual as summer turning into autumn. Finally, there are religious connotations
throughout. `Famine god' and `altar of sod' connotes a sense of worshiping the earth that
gives them potatoes, but also a sense of fear that the `famine god' could choose to
take them away.
Section 2:
This section focuses on the potatoes once they have been dug up. Sibilance is used in
this section to orally recreate the processes of potato farming. `Split by the spade'
implies the sound of the spade cutting through a potato. Simile is used when describing
the potatoes insides as `white as cream'. As cream is used as a topping on deserts, this
makes the potatoes sound tasty and pleasing, but could also connote the farmer's
feelings towards the potatoes as something of a blessing. The section ends with the
unpleasant image of `live skulls, blind eyed' which gives the image of skulls being buried
in the ground, but still being alive. This is a very sinister image, linking to the next section,
about the 1845 potato famine.
Section 3:
There is a repetition of the `live skulls, blind eyed' image, but this time they are attached
to `wild higgledy skeletons'. This time the skulls are real people, who have been seriously
affected by the Irish potato famine in which one million people died. The new potatoes at
first seem perfectly fine, `sound as stone' but when you cut into it the insides are
`putrefied', which could connote the two sides of nature the kind `motherly side' and the
`famine god' side. The people are described as desperate and lifeless with `faces chilled
to a plucked bird' which makes the faces seem pale and withered, with a similar
appearance to a bird that has been plucked of it's feathers. This could connote how, as
the bird has had one of it's most valuable possessions plucked away, as have the Irish
people, for whom potatoes were a staple food. Finally, whereas in section one the earth
is described as a mother, in section three it is described as `bitch earth', making the
earth seem unpleasant and hateful against the people who are now suffering.
Section 4:
The final section of the poem brings us back to the present day, suggesting that the
potato famine is ingrained in Irish society and that even today they have not forgotten it.
The workers stop for a lunch of `brown bread and tea' showing that the potato farmers do
not rely on potatoes as food anymore, because of the better money they are earning,
but also maybe that they do not trust the earth to continue producing the potatoes and
that a repeat of 1845 could occur. This idea of distrust is present again when the farmers
`stretched on the faithless ground, spill libations of cold tea, scatter crumbs'. The idea of
giving offerings to the ground have religious connotations, but also suggests that the
`faithless ground' is not to be trusted, and must be appeased if it is to continue giving
them potatoes

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