Comparing and contrasting “Digging” by Seamus Heaney, and “He was” by Richard Wilbur
Comparing and contrasting “Digging” by Seamus Heaney, and “He was” by Richard Wilbur

Comparing and contrasting “Digging” by Seamus Heaney, and “He was” by Richard Wilbur

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  • Pages: 6 (2688 words)
  • Published: October 17, 2017
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‘Digging’ and ‘He was’ both examine father-son relationships with a sense of pride and admiration. However, both poems can also be read as an exploration and a challenge to what is considered to be “art”. Throughout the two poems there are repeated references to the artistry of poetry and working in the field.

The essay will explore how this is achieved, the similarities and differences of two poems. The connection between the poetry writing and working on the field is repeatedly linked in both poems.Indeed a variety of poetic devices are used to reinforce this, for example, the “hoe” in ‘He was’ is the father’s tool, just as the “squat pen” is the writer’s tool in ‘Digging’. This emphasizes the closeness between writing a poem and digging. Stanza three of ‘Digging’ and stanza two of ‘He was’, both refer to the physical labour of their father’s work. Indeed the connection between digging and poetry is once again reinforced by the “rhythm” and “sound” of the father’s work.

The father’s work has a rhythm to it just as it is often necessary for the poet to find a rhythm through his or her choice of words. For example, in ‘Digging’, the poet describes the movements made by his father as “When the spade sinks into gravelly ground” and “Nicking and slicing neatly”, and in ‘He was’, the poet describes the sounds of his father working, “The chug, choke, and high madrigal wheeze”. Both poets feel a deep sense of ad

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miration and respect for the fathers. The speakers admire the way in which their fathers work, and are astounded at their skillful movements.

I think there is a hint of jealousy, but the level of respect beats that. In ‘Digging’, the speaker describes his grandfather as the best; “My Grandfather cut more turf in a day / Than any other man on Toner’s bog”. It is true that the speaker appears boastful to a certain degree, but I think the speaker wishes to express his true feelings towards his grandfather, that he was a man who tried his best. In ‘He was’, the speaker describes his father as “But he was all but dumb” and this remark certainly appears boastful.

There is also a child-like tone of voice in that quote; it is as though the speaker believes his father is the supreme, just like a child thinks that ‘Action Man’ is the best. It underlines the deep awe and praise the speaker has for his father. The skillful artistry of the fathers working is clearly highlighted in both poems. In ‘Digging’, the speaker describes his grandfather as working extremely skillfully, as he states, “Nicking and slicing neatly, …

going down and down / For the good turf. Digging. ” It is true that a poet also has to ‘dig’ for words in his head, “going down and down / For the good” words.The same points has been made in ‘He was’ when the speaker describes his father planting “a young orchard with so great care / In that last year that none was lost,” The poet also has to search for appropriate words and

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“plant” them with “great care” in order to write a poem. The childhood memories of the speaker are frequently reinforced through the use of onomatopoeia.

The child-like sounds of “Chug, choke” and “madrigal wheeze” in ‘He was’ and the “clean rasping sound” in ‘Digging’ emphasizes a happy and content childhood memory.Both poets describe the sounds of the fathers’ work, and once again the use of alliteration reinforces the childhood memories. For example, “The spade sinks into gravelly ground” in ‘Digging’ and “Of the spray-cart bumping below” in ‘He was’ highlights the memories of sounds the speaker heard when he was young. Certainly the first two stanzas of ‘Digging’ and the first stanza of ‘He was’ emphasizes a secure, warm, and safe atmosphere. In particular, this sense of security reinforces both the very close relationship between father and son and the two art forms.

In both poems there is a sense of magic and fantasy. In stanza three of ‘Digging’ this occurs when the poet imagines his father as he works on the flower beds twenty years ago. The digging brings on a magical quality, “He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep”. This dream like atmosphere is also repeated in ‘He was’ when it states, “Until he went in the dead of fall / To the drowsy underground. ” It is as if in ‘He was’, his father is not really dead, rather he lives on and his voice can be found in the “young orchard”, just as the poet’s voice is heard in his work.I feel strongly that both poems hint an underlying sense of growing and working extremely hard, to raise a family under whatever the condition.

I think that both poems are about the poet reconstructing the pieces of memories which they think their fathers had to do to raise them up to what they are at present. In ‘Digging’, the speaker describes the hard works done by his father and grandfather. His father digged “potatoes” his grandfather digged “turfs” and also the words, “Through living roots awaken in my head” which I think means that Seamus Heaney’s family tree has continued through the hard work done by the poet’s ancestors.In ‘He was’, the writer describes the work of his father as “Having planted a young orchard with so great care” which I think refers to all the work done by his father to raise him, the “young orchard”. Although both poems possess somewhat similar qualities, there are also many differences between two poems.

Initially the structure of both poems is very different. ‘He was’ is very structured with an ‘ABCBCA’ rhyming scheme. For example, in the first stanza; “a brown old man with a green thumb: I can remember the screak on stones of his hoe, The chug, choke, and high madrigal wheezeOf the spray-cart bumping below The sputtery leaves of the apple trees, But he was all but dumb” It is fairly clear that the first line rhymes with the last line, and the second line rhymes with the forth line, and the third line rhymes with the fifth line, i. e. , the

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