I never GOT poetry while at school. Which is strange because while I was ignoring the teachers I was busy secretly writing my own ‘funny’ verses. I left rhyme behind a long time ago, but I’ve tinkered with the form in many ways since. More of that in a post elsewhere.

For anyone looking for poetic inspiration… or wondering what all the fuss is about… here is one of the true masters at work, who is no longer among us. When you come out the other side of this poem and feel like you’ve been somewhere – and somewhen – else, when each of your senses has been filled, then you’ll know what great poetry really is.



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.


  1. Claire Calverley-Smith · · Reply

    In the process of studying Heaney, for the final year of my MA, I decided I would order a second copy of Field Work so that I had a copy nearer the original publication date. My copy arrived and is signed and dated inside by a Mark Evans 10th November 1979. Hence I searched the name along with Seamus Heaney and it brought me here!
    Just thought that you might like to know!

    1. Serendipity!
      Can’t claim that it was me who signed it since I was almost five years old on that date.
      This sounds like the start of a novel…
      Thanks Claire!
      Mark Evans
      10th November, 2014

    2. You wouldn’t, by any chance, be able to send me a picture of said signature, Claire?


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