In the second line there is almost a violent image contrasted between the Snug pen (a comfortable image) and a gun. His pen is a comfortable weapon. We even start off rhyming – thumb, gun, and sound, ground, and down, but this stoops after like 5. Not sure why.
He hears a sound outside that draws him away from his squat pen. Alliteration of S and G: spade sinks, gravelly ground. And while he (Seamus) looks “down”, we get more ‘down’ language: digging, down. He looks down on his father (which is ironic since he seems to be looking up to him), and his father digs down into the earth. Not to mention the death imagery – digging a grave.
He moves through time by linking ‘straining rump’ to the next line of ‘twenty years’. It’s literally back-breaking work and it’s taking it’s toll – again an allusion to death.
Not sure what ‘potato drills’ is. Drilling down? Like a military drill? It’s ordered rows of potato planting.
The image of the boot and the knee are very intimate, and this leads to the larger theme of this being generational. By looking t the body parts and not the man we see this repeated generation after generation, row by row (potato drills) over and over. He uses “we picked” and “our hands” to further link this to something larger than just his father.
Yet at line 17 we get a sense of pride towards his father in how much he could dig, and how hard he could work. He feels his own work is inadequate like the sloppy paper cork (and paper is intentional here since our writer uses paper in his craft so sloppy is well served) when he brought his father milk. And this feels like a strange thing to bring a man who has been laboring in the hot sun: milk? Is this something to do with nourishment? Or is it just me feeling it would not be very tasty?
I love the image of ‘cold smell of potato mould’ – you can really smell that! Here it gets very earthy – the ground his father is digging and will forever rest in. And the living roots are what connects the family to each other and to the earth and to the land and it’s all earthy and the good turf is The Good Earth.
Finally he has no spade but a pen, a squat pen, and that feels almost inadequate in comparison with what his father had: a bright edged spade. Is he somewhat embarrassed by this? Shame? Or is he reminding himself how close he really is to that good turf? He may have a pen, but he has dug just as deep.