#46

Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity), 1890 by Vincent van Gogh

Digging by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb  
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. 
 
Under my window, a clean rasping sound  
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:  
My father, digging. I look down 
 
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds  
Bends low, comes up twenty years away  
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills  
Where he was digging. 
 
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft  
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked, 
Loving their cool hardness in our hands. 
 
By God, the old man could handle a spade.  
Just like his old man. 
 
My grandfather cut more turf in a day 
Than any other man on Toner’s bog. 
Once I carried him milk in a bottle 
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up 
To drink it, then fell to right away 
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods 
Over his shoulder, going down and down 
For the good turf. Digging. 
 
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. 
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them. 
 
Between my finger and my thumb 
The squat pen rests. 
I’ll dig with it.
 
More art by Vincent van Gogh here.  
 
 
Links of the Day: Photography by Edie Sunday
 
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