John Ronan On Seamus Heaney’s “Digging”


A few days ago I read a glowing review of an Instagram poet, whose name I’ll not mention, which contrasted her writing to Seamus Heaney’s. In short, the reviewer complained that Heaney’s writing was too complicated, used too many words, and took too long to read. Yeah, I thought, but he never wasted one!

Needing an antidote to that vapid assessment, I found John Ronan’s essay on Heaney’s “Digging.” I feel much better now.

And here’s a recording of the poem.

23 thoughts on “John Ronan On Seamus Heaney’s “Digging”

  1. Good grief alive. It’s hardly believable is it: “Too complicated” & “too many words”? Why do people bother reading poetry if the author has to give them a road map & hold their hand through the poem? This is why history has practically forgotten the best poems of Robert Browning, nobody wants to try, but they want all the benefit of being a reader.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Might as well but guided brackets in between the lines. i mean i am all for transparency outside the poetry, i don’t want everything to be a mystery, but poetry has to make you scratch your head once in a while, or marvel at the ingenuity of a line & give some pause as to how that may have come to the poet. Simplicity isn’t a bad thing, but when poetry readers are complaining about complexity then there is a serious problem, as i see it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I agree that not everything must be a mystery, and that simplicity isn’t a bad thing. Hell, simplicity can be quite complex, as you know. But yeah, there is a problem when readers don’t want to, well, read.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Moreover, Heaney isn’t really a complex poet in the way i assume this reviewer thinks. The difficulty with Heaney comes from his cultural references to distinctly Irish things, which we may not get, but good grief, get a dictionary out or Google is probably in your pockets. Look for the references, learn something. i do know a great many people who say they never look up words they don’t know. That is beyond me. Every time i read anything i have a dictionary open next to me.
            You are quite right that simplicity can be complex, just look what Dylan Thomas does with the sparest amount of words. He really doesn’t have an immense vocabulary but boy does he baffle.

            Liked by 3 people

  2. The advent of “Instapoetry” has certainly widened the high culture/low culture divide within poetry. I don’t want to say that “Instapoetry” isn’t poetry, but I will say that I think their agenda is so different from the lit. poets (e.g. Heaney) that you really can’t compare the two . Personally, I don’t care for the “Instapoets”, but I don’t mind them either. I think they lack substance, but I also think their accessibility opens the door to a much broader audience of potential poetry readers who (who knows?) might end up reading Heaney somewhere down the line.

    Liked by 1 person

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