|Digger in a Potato Field: Nuenen, Februari - July 1885, Vincent van Gogh, chalk on paper, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam|
Robert Lowell wasn't certainly far off, when he referred to Seamus Heaney, 1995 Nobel Prize laureate , as "the greatest Irish poet since Yeats."
Recalling his time in Belfast, talking about his childhood, Heaney once noted: "I learned that my local County Derry experience, which I had considered archaic and irrelevant to 'the modern world' was to be trusted. They taught me that trust and helped me to articulate it."
As a young poet, Heaney was painfully aware of the gaping distance between the world of language and literature, and the psychical, rural world that he encountered around him: a dichotomy between his own roots, the parochial and peasant life, and the gifts of poetry and education that progressively seemed to pull him away from his background. This sense of exclusion is magnificently rendered in his poem 'Digging', that we present below in its original 1966 version, followed by a version in Italian, translated by LiteraryJoint.
In "Digging", from Heaney's debut collection "Death of a Naturalist," a powerful juxtaposition is rendered: two marvelous tools, the pen and the spade, both working their own way deeply, to unearth hidden treasures awaiting to be brought to light.
Between my finger and my thumbThe squat pen rests; snug as a gun.Under my window, a clean rasping soundWhen the spade sinks into gravelly ground:My father, digging. I look downTill his straining rump among the flowerbedsBends low, comes up twenty years awayStooping in rhythm through potato drillsWhere he was digging.The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaftAgainst the inside knee was levered firmly.He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deepTo 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 dayThan any other man on Toner’s bog.Once I carried him milk in a bottleCorked sloppily with paper. He straightened upTo drink it, then fell to right awayNicking and slicing neatly, heaving sodsOver his shoulder, going down and downFor the good turf. Digging.The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slapOf soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edgeThrough 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.
"Digging" from Death of a Naturalist," 1966 by Seamus Heaney.
Following is a version in Italian, translated by LiteraryJoint.
Tra l'indice e il pollice
La penna riposa immobile; tesa come una pistola.
Sotto la mia finestra, un suono distinto e stridente
Quando la vanga affonda nella terra ghiaiosa:
Mio padre, cavando. Guardo in basso
Finchè la sua schiena tesa tra le aiuole
Si piega bassa, si rialza a vent'anni di distanza
Chinandosi ritmicamente traverso il solco delle patate
Ove stava cavando.
Lo stivale ruvido adagiato sulla suola, il gambale
Contro il ginocchio interno faceva leva fermamante.
Sradicava le lunghe cime, interrando a fondo la lama luccicante
Per sparpagliare le patate nuove cha avremmo raccolto
avvertendo con piacere nelle nostre mani la loro fresca durezza.
Per Dio, il vecchio sapeva come maneggiare una vanga.
Esattamente come il suo vecchio.
Mio nonno poteva smuovere più zolle in un giorno
Di ogni altro uomo nella torbiera dei Toner.
Una volta gli portai del latte in una bottiglia
Tappata appena con della carta. Si tirò su
Per berlo, quindi si richinò subito
Incidendo e intagliando nettamente, sollevando zolle
Sopra le sue spalle, scendendo e scendendo
Per la buona torba. Scavando.
Il fresco odore di muffa di patate, lo sguazzare e picchiettioDi torba fradicia, i risoluti tagli del fil di lamaTraverso le radici vive mi tornano alla mente.Ma non ho vanga per star dietro a uomini come loro.
Tra l'indice e il polliceLa penna riposa immobile.Scaverò con quella.
"Digging"da "Death of a Naturalist", Seamus Heaney, 1966. Traduzione in italiano a cura di