At a Potato Digging by Seamus Heaney

notes about At a Potato Digging by Seamus Heaney

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  • Created on: 18-04-11 16:30
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At a Potato Digging
Main Ideas
Looking at present day potato harvest (written in 1960's) and in 1845-9 during potato famine years, when crops
failed, and millions died and emigrated
Fear among potato diggers, despite fact that the famine is no longer a threat
Religious images, and the idea of their lives being controlled by the earth, and how this cripples them as a nation
Fear of the earth, and the god like control it has over the people.
Sense of death and doom surrounding the potato harvest, due to memories of past
In four main sections:
1. Workers in a potato field following the machine turning up potatoes, darkness and religious images
2. The healthy potatoes
3. Famine of the past and the death which it brought
4. Workers happily eating lunch, celebration, thankful to gods
The first and last sections have a loose iambic metre and a clear ABAB rhyme scheme - which breaks down only in
the poem's final line, where they appear to be wasting food, now without fear, no longer caught in rhythm of
death and destruction
The second section has fewer rhymes in an irregular pattern. Lines and sections run into each other, joy of
potatoes being harvested
The third section uses rhyme in pairs: AABB and so on. Sounds like historic poetic tale of what happened in the
past, light sound does not seem to fit the subject matter.
Enjambment suggests unending nature of the work
"A mechanical digger wrecks" suggests using machines is unnatural, yet modern farming prevents famine.
"wrecks the row", "attacking", "ranks" military connotations, fighting earth
"spins up a dark shower" man's power over nature
"stoop" Also connotes to bowing to the land, suggesting its power over them
"Fingers go dead in the cold" suggesting that the earth and old farming methods with the ground led to death.
"Tall for a moment but soon stumble back" suggests that they are trapped, and give up their pride and strength to
the earth.
Talks of workers as crows- birds of death
Refers to religious images and often death together, is Heaney suggesting that the gods have forsaken them, and
brought death. Also links the ground to a god.
Alliteration and assonance suggest natural links between potatoes and ground
Imagery of smell and feel as workers anxiously are checking for blight
"balanced" suggests how weak and vulnerable the people are
"wolfed" connotes to animal savageness in just a search for survival
Especially in 3rd section many words linked to death, rotting etc.
"a people hungering from birth" suggests that this suffering is part of them
" beaks of famine snipped at guts" links back to birds mentioned before, metaphorical beaks
"you still smell the running sore" present tense, showing how strongly it affected them and how they still have
"dead-beat" still know of death within their work
At end still offering food to gods, to appease, never loose fear


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