Parent-Child Bond in Digging & The Afflictions of Margaret

Categories: Digging Metaphor

"Digging" by Seamus Heaney, reveals how the author looked up to his dad and grandpa.

He sees his dad, who is now old, "straining" to dig "flowerbeds", the poet remembers him in his prime, digging "potato drills". Even previously, he remembers his grandfather, digging peat. He can not match "men like them" with a spade, but he sees that the pen is, "tight as a gun", more comfy for him and with it he will dig into his past and celebrate them.

This poem has to do with two memories, Heaney's daddy digging the potato drills and his grandfather digging turf, "more than any other guy on Toner's bog". The poet has admiration and respect for his dad and grandfather. Nevertheless, he also feels dissatisfied with himself and not worthy as he can not continue their profession as a digger.

He use onomatopoeia in words such as "gravelly", "sloppily", "squelch" and "slap" and acoustic description so the readers can produce an image more easily.

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Also, Heaney uses an extended metaphor of digging and roots, which shows how in his writing, he is returning to his own roots, his identity, and where his household originates from. The poem begins almost as it ends, like a circle, however only at the end is the writer's pen seen as a weapon for digging as he ends the poem, "I'll dig with it".

Overall, the basic impression from this poem is that Heaney and his relationship in between his dad and grandfather was very strong as a skill was hands down from grandpa to daddy which connects the past.

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He still feels happy yet a small feel of unwortheness that he can not continue their digging however he can "dig" into their past and roots. Heaney has his own, special method of digginf.

In comparison, "On my very first Sonne" by Ben Jonson records and regrets the death of the poet's first child. Jonson contrasts his feelings of grief with what he thinks he ought to feel, happiness that his boy is in a better place.

The poem has to do with how the death of a kid has fantastic power to move people. It would have been a much more common occasion in 17th century England, where youth health problems were frequently deadly.

Similarly to Heaney in "Digging" Jonson speaks for and as himself.

Alsom Jonson writes as if he is talking to his son, and as if he assumes that the boy can hear or read his words. He calls him the child of his "right hand", which suggests that the boy is of great worth and also the fact that he would have been the writer's heir. This final image comes from the Bible as it reflects ancient cultures and the way Jesus is shown as sitting at God's right hand. There is slight reference to biblical vocabulary as he write "right hand" and "sinne".

The poet sees the boy's death as caused by his sin, as in the father's, not the boy's. This is because he believes that he loved the child too much, This is an idea that returns at the end of the poem. This type of cycle idea is very similar to that in "Digging". He sees the boy's life also in terms of a loan, which he has had to repay, after seven years, on the day set for this, "the just day". This extended metaphor expresses the idea that all people really belong to God and that they are permitted to spend time in this world.

Generally, "On my first Sonne" creates an impression that a parent child relationship is good and maybe too good. The writer suggests that "his best piece of poetry", the best thing he has ever made is his son. Remembering his sin of loving too much he later expresses the hope or wish that from now on, whatever he loves he will not love it "too much"

The poem is written in the form of an address to the dead child but really shows the readers Jonson's own feelings. In contrast to all the other poems, this is the only poem which consists of only one short stanza. The short stanza contains one striking extended metaphor that of the boy being "lent" for "seven years", and paid back "on the just day".

The last two lines are memorable. A quite complex idea is packed neatly into two rhyming lines, which is commonly known as an epigram. Jonson says that everything that he liked before his son died will never get liked as much now. He will become less attached to people and things now as he does not want to be hurt again as much as he has been by his son's death.

Another example of using extended metaphors is in "Catrin" by Gillian Clarke.

Clarke's poem called "Catrin" contrasts a baby's dependency on her mother with the independence and defiance of a teenager. In a sense, therefore, this poem is for all mothers and all daughters. Gillian Clarke writes that "It is an absolutely normal relationship of love, anxiety and anger."

The general meaning of the poem is clear though some details may be ambiguous. At the start of the poem, the mother is in the labour ward in a city hospital, "as she stood in a hot, white room at the window watching". From the first, mother and child seem to have been in a tug of war or a tug of love, fighting over the "tight red rope of love". Soon the poet found herself thinking up and maybe writing somewhere words which she describes as she writes them "all over the walls". Maybe she is trying to explain her reaction to the "disinfected" and "clean" or "blank" environment, without "paintings and toys" and colouring in the white spaces. She sees this now as two individuals struggling to become "separate" and shouting "to be two, to be ourselves". Their personalities clash.

The second section tells what happened. Neither has "won nor lost the struggle" but it "has changed us both". The poet is still fighting off her daughter who can tug at her feelings by pulling "that old rope". The mother seems very much to want to be able to agree to the request to play out, and it hurts her to say no. This is because she foresees an argument with a strong-willed teenager. But she cannot give in - both because it would be irresponsible to allow the skating, and because it would be even more unwise to allow her daughter to think that she was winning the struggle.

In contrast to all the other poems, "Catrin" is unique as it is the only poem to consist of two stanzas which in between has a break which could symbolise the growth of the child into a teenager.

This poem has some striking images. The metaphor of a "red rope of love" is the umbilical cord. The image is repeated, as "that old rope". This image of an invisible umbilical cord is that which ties parents and children even when the children grow up.

Also, another example of a metaphor is the "glass tank" for the hospital, according to Ms. Clarke and she explains that skating in the dark is meant literally as an example of the kind of thing children ask to do but which mothers refuse because it is too dangerous.

However, in comparison to "On my first Sonne", "Catrin" is about how the parent and child's relationship is so strong similarly to Heaney and his father and grandfather in "Digging". Clarke writes about how they "struggle to become separate. We want, we shouted, to be two, to be ourselves". They have a rough time as Clarke writes "Still I am fighting". The child wants freedom and the mother does not know how to reply.

"The Affliction of Margaret" by William Wordsworth is very similar to "Catrin" as both of their subjects are very closely related to society today.

It is about a boy who has left home, but lost contact with his mother. She has not heard from him for seven years, and worries about what has happened to him, her only child. She does not say that she is a single parent in so many words, but she never mentions the boy's father and says finally that she has "no other earthly friend" which suggests that either she does not see the father now, or that he is dead.

This poem is very long and there is a lot to absorb in, in the first read over. The title and the fact that she is a mother make it clear that the speaker in this poem is not the poet, but an imagined character. She begins by speaking to the missing son, asking him what he is doing and where he is. Having mentioned the length of his absence, seven years, she describes what a model child he was and thinks about how, in the past, she used to worry that he was neglecting her. Now she thinks either that he has been unsuccessful and is ashamed to come home or is lost in a prison or a desert, or drowned in the "deep". If the boy is dead, then Margaret thinks that it cannot be true that ghosts bring back messages to the living, for she would have had "sight" of him. She ends the poem, as she began it, with a request to the boy to return or send some news to set her mind at rest. This type of cycle idea is very similar to that in "Digging" and in "On my first Sonne".

Margaret has a first name but the readers don not know any more details of her, nor do they know the son's name. Neither, Margaret or the son has any very clear individual qualities except that the mother says that her son was worthy, good looking, noble and innocent. However, the readers do not know if she exaggerates, but nevertheless, she seems sincere and honest. She seems to stand for all mothers everywhere who have lost touch with their children. This representation is similar to that of Clarke in "Catrin" as she could denote for all the mothers who have had a strong relationship with their child and they shout and struggle to become separate.

This is a long poem as it consists of eleven stanzas and it is written in a regular and basic rhyme scheme (ABABCCC) which is very unique among the other poems. Wordsworth wrote the poem in the vocabulary and style of everyday speech back in his time. The modern reader may find that the style is still quite literary as Wordsworth does not use dialect words or abbreviations. However, mostly readers find 'The Affliction of Margaret' as clear and direct.

Wordsworth is not a very economical writer in this poem in the way that Ben Jonson is in "On My First Sonne". They are both completely opposite. Instead of packing an idea tightly into a short couple of stanzas, he tends to spell things out. Therefore, rather than just write 'humbled', Wordsworth explains what this means 'poor. Hopeless of honour and of gain'.

As Wordsworth uses simple rhyme schemes, most of the lines end in a punctuation mark that requires the reader to pause or stop. However, there are a few lines that use enjambement and do run on.

Consequently, "The Afflictions of Margaret" is about how the relationship between the mother and child is very distant and there may not even be a relationship. However, there basic was a strong relationship as she describes what a model child he was and that she says that he was worthy, good looking, noble and innocent.

Thus, to conclude with, I would say that all the poems show that the parent child relationship can be strong and full of respect. The relationship may be too strong like in "Catrin" where Clarke describes "We want, we shouted, to be two, to be ourselves" or in "On my first Sonne" where after his son has died Jonson feels as though he can no longer love anything as much as before which shows that they may have been too closely connected. Also, in "Digging" the relationship between Heaney, his father and grandfather is full of respect and aspiration.

However, some of the poems also show that the parent child relationship can have lows. For example, in "Catrin" there is a feel of anger and tension as the parent and child relationship wants to become separate. Also, in "The Afflictions of Margaret", if the relationship is very distant and just about broken then it can cause a lot of distress, suffering and trauma. Additionally, in "On my first Sonne", Jonson feels as though he can no longer love anything as much as before his child's death. He has to become less attached to many things as he may get hurt again. These two poems show that a strong relationship between a parent and child may not necessary be the right thing to create as once it breaks and gets destroyed, it is very hard to mend or find a replacement.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Parent-Child Bond in Digging & The Afflictions of Margaret. (2017, Sep 19). Retrieved from

Parent-Child Bond in Digging & The Afflictions of Margaret essay
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