Paternal Roots

(Picture via Getty Images)

The late Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney had a special knack for capturing the rhythmic significance of everyday moments. He also wrote some of the most beautiful poems about fathers in the 20th century.

In “A Call,” Heaney depicts a moment when a child acknowledges his father’s mortality. In “Follower,” he explores dependance between a father and a child, and the role-reversal that takes place when a once towering paternal figure ages. But arguably his most famous—and best—poem about fathers is “Digging,” published in his first collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966). It’s a short poem (just 31 lines long), and a stylistically wonderful meditation on preserving a paternal legacy amid change.

The poem begins with the speaker prepared to write:

Between my finger and my thumb

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