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The first image, the pen, also serves as a frame for the poem, appearing in the second line of the poem and the thirtieth line. These images contrast the purposes of each implement. The narrator of the poem appears to be a writer. His ancestors are all farmers. The tools they used all had a specific purpose that resulted in a way of life, farming. By becoming a writer, the narrator has broken the mold of his family. Throughout the poem, he considers the spade his father and grandfather used, and the pen is obviously not as useful in a physical sense as the spade. But, by comparing the pen to a gun, the narrator is giving it power. The pen cannot gather food from the earth or split turf to sell, but the words it creates can be as powerful as a gun. Words have inspired wars and resulted in the imprisonment of writers.
The next juxtaposed images are of the father gardening and the father digging potatoes. In the first stanza, the narrator is composing at a window. While he is writing, his father is below the window digging in flower beds. This image thrusts the narrator into the past where he remembers his father digging potatoes. The juxtaposed images are present in the line, “I look down / Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds / Bends low, comes up twenty years away” (Heaney 5-7). This image mirrors the thoughts of the narrator about the usefulness of his pen. The father once engaged in meaningful work with his shovel, digging potatoes, but he now spends his time digging in flower beds. The narrator feels the same about his ancestry and his current occupation. He is a writer, which is the practical equivalent of digging in flower beds instead of in a potato patch. The image continues as the narrator travels back to memories of his grandfather, who used his tools for one purpose, cutting peat. For the narrator, the value of a tool seems to
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As it is also mentioned in the poem, "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”. Hence the poet uses the word Digging as a metaphor that symbolizes the overall struggle of human beings in their respective lives to achieve their individual goals.
This is worthy of mention because Heaney often writes with farming as a backdrop or as the main subject of his poems. Although Heaney moved away from the family farm when he was young the farm never left him and it is quite obvious that his time on the farm had a big impact on him.
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