In Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking,” the rhythmic, memorable experience of picking blackberries is recounted in a way which illumines not only the importance of a childhood memory, but also a certain reckoning with reality that one acquires through growing older. The title “Blackberry Picking” is deceptively simple—it suggests a mere retelling of a childhood memory picking blackberries. And throughout the first and longer stanza, just such information is given. But in the shorter closing stanza, Heaney reflects on the experience from the perspective of adulthood. Here he reveals the poem’s overarching theme: our hope to retain all which we hold dear in life against the natural, inevitable reality of loss and change.
The opening line places the setting in “late August,” the time of harvest but also a time in which we have our own strong memories of falling in love, family vacations, swimming with friends, and starting school. Heaney’s memory is here too—for a “full week” given “heavy rain and sun” when the blackberries would ripen. The colorful diction describing the blackberries lights up the rural landscape of his early days: “glossy purple clot / Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.”
In line five, he employs the second person, “You ate that first one and its flesh…” which brings the blackberries as close to our mouths as to his, and the word flesh amalgamates the blackberry with his own being. The union between Heaney’s humanity and the blackberries is further supported by the next line where the berries become like “thickened wine,” the drink which humans have drunk for centuries in intimate settings of bonding and transformation—weddings and holy communion in church. Too, in the same line, the “summer’s blood” which is in the berries--suggests a mixing of Heaney’s blood with the blackberries and with summer. Do the berries now have his blood as the summer has them both?
Of course the berries leave “stains on his tongue” and a “lust for picking.” Blackberry picking is more than just a routine for Heaney, it involves the core passions of life, of childhood. The prepositional phrase “with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots” contains the rhythm of the berries hitting the pail. We hear the memory as well as he does. But nothing of value comes without hard work, the mini-theme of the next six lines: “where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.” After all, Heaney must introduce some pain here as a set-up for his thematic reflection of grave reality which encompasses the whole poem. “We trekked and picked” and “Our hands were peppered / With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s." Life can be a sticky mess—it isn’t easy, and it can be as ugly and downright immoral as Bluebeard.
The opening line of the second stanza, “We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre,” reveals the first of Heaney’s desperate attempts to hold on to what must inevitably change. The strong verb hoarded shows just how desperate he is to hold on—just how desperate all of us are. The berries are “fresh” going in—but that’s just it, the freshness cannot last, a frightening fact he was aware of subconsciously as a child, but only fully as an adult.
The transition word “but” in the next line signals the necessary alarm—can we not simply have a nice memory of picking blackberries as a child? Not here, where reality is the great leveler, a fundamental that Heaney is compelled to reveal. The “rat-grey fungus” shows up not long after they fill the byre “glutting” on his cache. And, he says, “the juice was stinking too,” the “fruit fermented,” and the “sweet flesh would turn sour." The repetition of the harshness of time, loss, and decomposition emphasizes just how intense this natural reality of the world is for Heaney. It is something to cry over. We cannot hold on, we cannot retain. Thus, he says, “I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair." I could not concur more—life isn’t fair. All the best we have passes and only death awaits—a fact which bring tears to our eyes, too.
He closes the poem by saying of the blackberries that each year he “hoped they’d keep, knew they would not." The painful theme of love and loss, life and death flashed before his eyes as a youth, but more intensely as an adult. But even with this, I feel there may be something more—a glimmer of light which rises, minimally but mystically, from the poem: Heaney’s poetic recounting of such an experience assuages him, even provides him a respite to deal with the implacability of time and death. By expressing his deepest concerns in this rich poem, he mixes the beauty of memory with the salve of writing, giving us a context for hope.
Essay on Analysis of Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney
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Analysis of Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney
Once the reader can passes up the surface meaning of the poem Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney, past the emotional switch from sheer joy to utter disappointment, past the childhood memories, the underlying meaning can be quite disturbing. Hidden deep within the happy-go-lucky rifts of childhood is a disturbing tale of greed and murder. Seamus Heaney, through clever diction, ghastly imagery, misguided metaphors and abruptly changing forms, ingeniously tells the tale that is understood and rarely spoken aloud. Seamus Heaney refers to Bluebeard at the end of stanza one. Bluebeard, according to the footnote, is a character in a fairy tale who murders his wives. Why on earth would…show more content…
Realizing unconsciously seems like an oxymoron, but the speaker does not consciously realize the horrors of his actions, while deep down understands what he has done. The speaker’s extreme joy from hording all the delicious blackberries turns into horror upon witnessing their fermentation (2nd stanza). The speaker realizes that all good things must come to an end. He knows that, out of his greed, he has murdered these blackberries, made then ferment and caused them to loose their succulent appeal.
At first glance this poem seems a happy tale of childhood. These are memories that make the heart smile. Images of heavy summer storms full of rain, alternating with bright, joyous sunshine, full bushels of blackberries waiting to be picked; these are images most can relate with. The reader can taste the bitter-sweetness of the summer’s first blackberry, feel the scratch of briars against their own skin, sense the excitement and butterflies in their own stomachs as they race to gather all the wondrous blackberries they can, followed by the anger and the disappointment when the blackberries rot and ferment before the readers’ eyes. However, if the reader were to take the diction and imagery quite literally, a somewhat different picture is aroused. “…a glossy purple clot…” (line 3) describing the first ripened blackberry, brings to mind the picture of a nasty blood clot in someone’s veins, why would Heaney compare blackberries to blood clots?