Digging – Seamous Heaney – Analysis


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.

Seamous Heaney

S1 and S2 …His father was skilled at the use of the spade in the garden. SH compares his poetic skill in contrast … and he fires away in the opening lines – snug as a gun. At the same time he can watch the work of his Father from the window. He incorporates this distraction into words … it is as though Father and Son are working together each dedicated and focused.

S3 and S4 … However, when his straining rump comes up twenty years away there is indication that this is a reflection … so the words may not be coming directly from his seated position looking out the window as his Dad works but from memory. And the picking of the potatoes – to scatter new potatoes that we picked … perhaps he is recalling when as a child he helped in the garden. (The lug is the shoulder of a spade)

What is clear is the digging skill of his Father and Grand-father. And emphasied by the two lines and exclamation in stanza five.

S6 and S7… And in comparison with others his Dad was quite a champion at digging and when interrupted and given a drink he is quick to take up work again … a momentary break – as indicated by the break between stanzas six and seven. Repetion gives emphasis to his focus on digging.

S8 … The next stanza gives sensual feeling to this family digging work, both smell and sound. Digging goes deep into family history connecting the two with his words – the curt cuts of an edge through living roots. But this type of work is not for SH.

S9 … A repeat of words from S1 – the squat pen rests. Squat gives weight to his implement to contrast with the spade where the foot is replaced by the finger.  Seamous Heaney was as dedicated to poetry as his past family were to digging. Poetry was a new branch to the family tree. And of course he truly becme a well-respected champion at his art.

In this poem SH states his calling and gives emphasis that he is taking a different path from previous generations, and perhaps the expectation of family. He solidly makes known his calling with this wonderful example of his poetic skill.

It is great if a person knows what they should be doing in life and follows it even though it might be very different and against tradition and against family opposition.

Nasturtiums – Margaret Scott – Analysis


The nasturtiums are sprouting in hundreds
across the garden. Each seed puts down
a succulent white root, thrusts up a stalk
with two small neat round leaves, winsome
and vividly-green as those comic-book plants
dotted among a child’s party of frogs.
I feel like a cruel old witch when I yank them out,
but left to themselves they swell to monstrous mounds –
turtles with heaving shells of soft green platelets
simmering mobs of pale-eyed parasols
shaken by a raucous babble of lurid shrieking
more dreadful in lying low in venomous silence.
Sniggering flowers peak out – orange and mustard
some yolk-yellow with throats as brown as hyenas
or bad teeth, some paler as bulbous foreheads
and dwarfish scowls. They have blood on their chins
and spiky hair on their lips. What a crop!
What a nest of serpents. What can have rotted down
in this mild garden to feed these hysterical leaves
and malevolent blossoms?

Margaret Scott (1934 – 2005)

I can identify with this poem strongly as my garden is often overrun with these creatures and they do seem to have a liking for the compost area. But I must say they do provide a cover for a lot of sins. Below is a photograph taken from my garden which clearly demonstrates their dominance if left unchecked …


It also illustrates how well the words of the poem fit the reality of the plant and they are certainly a veritable mound of turtles with heaving shells of soft green platelets. And the flowers have blood on their chins and spiky hairs on their lips. All flowers have a face and are pretty and some are prettier than others. This poem with the strong personification gives clear evidence that the poet is a gardener who has done conflict with this plant on numerous occasions. They do grow so quickly and no matter how much you yank them out they will be sure to turn up again.

Margaret Scott does not mention the distinctive scent which I always find a touch antiseptic and not quite pleasant – nor the fact they have decorative and edible properties.

MS was an Australian author, poet, comedian, educator and public intellectual.

Margaret Scott on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Scott_(author)

China – wise sayings and concise words

China – wise sayings and concise words …

In early days it was so important to create words that were memorable and catchy to facilitate dissemination given that word of mouth (excuse the pun) was the only way to communicate … hence the importance of the actual words and their association, plus linking to rhyme and song to further remembrance and usage in the populace.

Most Chinese proverbs are based on historical events and the greatest number originates from that rich period of history, the third century BC, when the first Emperor of China reigned (Qin Shi Huang). He was the sovereign who united China, built the Great Wall, and created the magnificent tombs with the army of terracotta warriors.

An example … Govern the country like you would cook a small fish

My (an) interpretation … Fish = Wealth … treat the country as though you have little and therefore respect every element that you have … not wasting any part … therefore take great care in making use of all that is covered in your governance (cook gently and caringly so not to spoil) … and in your own house where you can enhance that resource with your own personal touch

Recommended reading for those interested in history connected to words is … A Thousand Pieces of Gold … A memoir of China’s past through its proverbs by Adeline Yen Mah … … this book describes the meeting of Adeline and Philip Larkin who described Chinese proverbs as ‘white dwarfs of literature’ … white dwarfs = tiny stars whose atoms are packed so closely together that their weight is immense compared to their size … proverbs being densely compacted with thoughts and ideas

Sample Proverbs …

One written word is worth a thousand pieces of gold

Clapping with one hand produces no sound

Binding your feet to prevent your own progress

When a tree falls the monkeys scatter

Adeline Yen Mah on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adeline_Yen_Mah … and here is a link to Chinese Proverbs on Wikiquote … http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Chinese_proverbs

Footnote … Adeline also states that the equivalent to Shakespeare in China is Sima-Qian (145 – 90BC) a Chinese historian who lived during the Han dynasty. He wrote only one book Shiji (Historical Record) which was published after his death and has been a bestseller since … perhaps the greatest Chinese book ever written.

Wikipedia Link … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sima_Qian


Remembering Sylvia … ‘Poppies in October’ …

Remembering Sylvia Plath who would have been 85 today …


Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly –

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

Oh my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frosts, in a dawn of cornflowers.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

Analysis …

Nothing in sun and sky can match the poppy skirts (petals) in their colour … nor the woman (reference to herself) in the ambulance whose red heart is amazingly kept alive … the woman close to death … others not so lucky … she has been rescued and will survive.

This late showing is out of context with the season … and is a gift unasked for …and in this regard, SP could be talking about her astoundingly good luck in surviving her earlier suicide attempt … her red heart did bloom … how come she was saved? … how come she was given a second chance? … SP did not ask for this … to be re-born … at least she acknowledges this gift as a ‘love-gift’ … even if she is not thankful.

… the action of the heart – ‘igniting its carbon monoxides’ (carbon monoxide has a stronger bind to haemoglobin than oxygen) … igniting – coming alive again … the medicos that saved her did not know her … see her red passion, her emotional state … how could they … they wear bowler hats … head-centric on their work

… and then the lament of not knowing who she is … the poppy in October … out of context … but still alive … she cries aloud for some understanding … why should she be alive in a ‘forest of frosts’ (in a deep tangle where growth is unlikely – how she saw her life) and in a ‘dawn of cornflowers’ (emerging against the bland mass of the common … a little arrogance perhaps)

… this poem was written on SP’s last birthday (27 Oct 1962) … her 30th birthday … at a time when she was living by herself (with the two children) in London – separated from Ted Hughes … she also wrote another poem ‘Ariel’ on the same day … so she had time to herself on this day to devote to poetry … and to question her existence … to question why she has survived out of season (like the poppy) … and to ask why she is still alive … and inferred – why is live so hard … it is a cry for an explanation from the deep intensity of her being for a meaning in her troubled world … questioned in a state of mental unrest..

… and whether any physical poppies were around on this her birthday is open to question … they could be mind-poppies … (refer also to a previous poem ‘Poppies in July’ written in Devon in the summer … when times were different.)

Here is a link to a recommended Site with 10 years of discussion material on the work of Sylvia Plath …

Here is the text of the interview with Sylvia Plath by Peter Orr (of the British Council) – recorded on 30 October 1962 (just after her 30th birthday) … Interview Sylvia Plath 30 Oct 1962 …


… during the Autumn of 1962 SP was at a poetic high producing some of her best work … the irony of the situation that although given a second life after her first suicide attempt and although adjusting to her new life without TH it would not be that long before she would succumb to sever depression and a fatal suicide. There would be no second ‘Lazarus‘.

… the poppy image was from the Australian spring taken at an open garden.

Bowled Over – Ted Hughes – Analysis

Bowled Over

By kiss of death, bullet on brow,
No more life can overpower
That first infatuation, world cannot
Ever be harder or clearer or come
Closer than when it arrived there

Spinning its patched fields, churches
Trees where nightingales sang in broad daylight
And vast flaring blue skirts of sea –
Then sudden insubordination
Of boredom and sleep

When the eyes could not find their keys
Or the neck remember what mother whispered
Or the body stand to its word.

Desertion in the face of a bullet!

Buried without honours.

Ted Hughes 1930 – 1998 (fromWodwo, 1967)

Wodwo – the first release from Ted Hughes following the death of Sylvia Plath in February 1963.

Looking at this poem in the context of the personal life of TH and SP and not just the loss of first love euphoria …

S1 … well that first intense feeling of love, falling in love when young and foolish, never to come again perhaps – in short being bowled over (apt cricket words for a Yorkshire man) – and a knock-out blow as in a kiss of death or bullet on the brow … this is a reflection looking back to that feeling – and what a feeling it was – the world never harder never clearer – my immediate thoughts on that first encounter of TH with SP, reflecting back some four years after her death … would that feeling ever come again … a very hard road after the death of SP and the catering for his two children from their marriage

S2 … this is what it is all about … love sending the mind spinning – a dizzy feeling as the environment adjusts to the euphoria and nightingales sing in daylight … shows how the world changes with emotional state – but then the last two lines – insubordination, disobedience, a rebellion boredom and sleep … the coming down from the hilltop … putting into the context of his broken marriage a self-disobedience (but living with SP and her mental instability not easy)

S3 … the resultant effect of his disobedience – eyes could not find their keys – what a wonderful way of saying that he could never unlock the door to the way it was … and
the neck never able to remember – thinking of the comfort of a mother to a boy in bed who could not rest … and then in terms of words – false to the word, false to the word of love by his disobedience

S4 … desertion in the face of a bullet (love) … perhaps this maybe the way he feels … well it was his initiative when he left SP – however, he didn’t completely desert her and cared very much for her well-being and helped her find accommodation in London

S5 … Buried without honours … a sense of depression on the way things had turned out … perhaps a wish he had stayed with SP – especially after the aftermath resultant from her tragic death … love buried without honours.

Independent of the personal context of TH and SP. This poem is a look back on the common life experience of first love euphoria after the relationship has ended for whatever reason. The relationship always remains part of us in some form or other. Whether it is buried without honours or carried forward as a latent embellishment is another matter.

TH served as  UK Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998. A link to Ted Hughes on Wikipedia.

The Conclusion of Joseph Turrill – Andrew Motion – Analysis

The Conclusion of Joseph Turrill
Garsington, Oxfordshire, 1867

I suppose I was cut out for a quiet life;
whether I have managed any such thing
is another matter,
what with larks to shoot,
and harvesting, gooseberries, and whatnot.

Then there was all that with Netty:
would she or wouldn’t she;
did I or didn’t I?
It is my belief
I spent more hours kicking my heels at her gate
than happy the other side.

Be that as it may,
Anno Domini drives out stern matters of fact,
and faults that appear to us
when we compare the lives we have
with those we imagine…
There’s nothing a gentle stroll
in the woods by moonlight can’t put right.

I tried that just now.
I saw swallows on the branches like clothes pegs,
which put me in such good humour
I brought home one of their nests and also four chicks.

Andrew Motion (1952 –

Andrew Motion was the UK Poet Laureate prior to Carol Ann Duffy.

Anno Domini – Medieval Latin and means “in the year of the Lord”, but is often translated as “in the year of our Lord”.

The problem with this poem is that many readers may not know anything about Joseph Turrill. Google is always there to help. JT lived in the period 1841-1925 and he was an Oxfordshire market gardener and diarist.

Perhaps if you read his diaries knowledge of a conclusion might be evident. But without such knowledge this poem independently tells us something about his nature.

S1 … JT thought he was in for a quiet life being a market gardener and close to nature and all the associated work … but here is a lamentation … it is a very busy life with all that his job entails … perhaps overwhelmed with all the work in a busy time of the year … of note is the shooting of larks something that may have occurred in his day, not sure of the reason – perhaps a food delicacy? … but the main thrust is the lamentation that time is being taken away from him … a loss of the life he wanted … not a quiet life

S2 … a different lamentation a loss of time in all his wasted efforts in courting Netty … would she or wouldn’t she … facilitation in the development of a relationship … again the loss of the life he wanted … perhaps wanting the permanent relationship of marriage

S3  … this is the way it is so he must face reality against his mind imaginings of what he would like to happen … how he would like life to be … so to get over these feelings of annoyance with his life … the solution a walk into the woods under moonlight … the escape to be himself alone with nature (I think I can remember JC doing something like this in the bible – escaping into nature when frustrated with the crowds)

S4 … well it worked, and moreover he saw ‘swallows like clothes pegs on the branches’ an added bonus, he could take a nest of young birds back home … something which would abhor readers of today!

So the conclusion (or my thoughts) – have time to yourself alone with nature when stressed … but to what extend this helps recovery and the continuance of everyday life is another matter! … time to enjoy a little exercise outside!

This is a link to details on Andrew Motion courtesy of Wikipedia.

Love after Love – Derek Walcott – Analysis

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott (1930 -2017)

S1 … a time of joy (hopefully) when you confront yourself … this is not a daily mirror glance … we see as we read the poem that this is an end of life reflection on who you really are … the face in the mirror who has known you all through your life now speaks back with a smile as you and your personified reflection welcomes each other … it is the door that opens to eternity … that time will come for all of us … but of course there is nothing stopping us reflecting at any stage on our journey … as we get older we have more to reflect on and we become more reflective as we slowdown in life.

S2 … it is only through life and living that you really come to know yourself … this person is a stranger at the start … at the end of life it is a time to love this person with wine and bread like a holy sacrament … the person that has loved you from the start … love being an inherent attribute in your creation – from a religious perspective

S3/4 … whom you ignored for another suggests a coming to a terms with yourself … in becoming you … who you really are … and independent of traditional trappings that define life such as letters and photographs … peel back the image that is you – your own image … then sit back and feast on you – forget those mistakes and all those parts not to your liking and celebrate your existence as you would sitting down at a table for a meal with a friend – that wonderful friend that is you.

Sir Derek Walcott was a West Indian poet and dramatist who died this year on 17 March. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992.

More background on this eminent poet via Wikipedia


The Human Seasons – John Keats – Comments

The Human Seasons

Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

John Keats

Spring = lusty
Summer = dream-time
Autumn = age
Winter = death

Are these the four seasons of human life?

The seasons have always been a subject for poetic expression and I’m sure there are many words that can be linked to each! It is an interesting exercise to associate one word with each of the seasons. Looking at this poem winter = misfeature – what does that conjure up in the mind of the reader and I guess winter = mortality is a common association.

In similar fashion one day can be associated with a lifetime – remember a certain Shakespeare sonnet.

More commentary on this poem 

A link to John Keats on Wikipedia