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“Digging” consists of 31 lines that are organized into eight stanzas of unequal length. Though loosely structured on the level of form, the poem is carefully organized on the level of content, which moves back in time in a linear movement. This retrograde movement begins in the third stanza. After establishing the poem’s present tense, in which he sits at his desk with pen in hand, the speaker peers out of his office window and sees his father digging in the garden below. What he sees causes his mind, almost imperceptibly, to shift to a memory of his father sowing potatoes twenty years earlier (lines 5–9):
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.
A second shift occurs in the sixth stanza, where the speaker moves from the memory of his father in the potato field to another memory of his grandfather cutting peat on “Toner’s bog” (line 18). At the poem’s end, the speaker returns to the present. Retaining these memories in his mind, he laments that he has “no spade to follow men like them” (line 28). Though wistful in tone, the poem has an overall structure that emphasizes the importance of honoring the past.