I’m struggling with an unanswerable question

Why write???

Who am I to settle down at my desk every day when the world is full of unsolved problems and unattended crises? Suddenly everything – almost anything –  seems to be more important than this impossible writing!

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. 
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down 
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging. 
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To 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 day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging. 
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through 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.


Source: Death of a Naturalist (1966)

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi sigrun. I was in class with a guy who wrote this (or something close to it) about writing: I do this because i cannot bake bread. Pretty similar to the spade Heaney does not possess. Enjoy your weekend, and i hope it will include some writing.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Good point! Self-knowledge & appreciation, its something to build on.

  2. Jean says:

    Let me quote again what I have in my blog sidebar, from Doris Lessing’s Nobel acceptance speech – she put it so well:

    ” Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise …but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative. “

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you Jean & thank you Doris!

  3. KM Huber says:

    “Who am I to settle down at my desk every day when the world is full of unsolved problems and unattended crises? Suddenly everything – almost anything – seems to be more important than this impossible writing!”

    Exactly, Sigrun, exactly, which is why you and all writers write. We write because there is never not writing; always, we write the stories that we have, and then we write beyond even us.


    1. Sigrun says:

      Dear Karen,
      I know you are right, but still it often feels very-very difficult to go on – !

  4. Sigrun, There is so little we can do about to better society, It may be that writing is your way of being an activist. Words generate thoughts that generate words that generate thoughts.

    1. Sigrun says:

      I do like to take the perspective you are sketching out here, writing is also a way of partaking in the world!

      1. I believe it is a way of “partaking in the world”. But it is a difficult way.
        Every word you write is a lasting testimonial.
        So I thank you.
        Best regards,

  5. Beth says:

    I hope very much that you will continue…

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