Blackberry-Picking

Blackberry-Picking

by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Summary of Blackberry-Picking

  • Popularity of “Blackberry-Picking”: Seamus Heaney, a great Irish poet and playwright, wrote ‘Blackberry-Picking’. It is a thought-provoking poem about disappointment and joy. It was first published in 1966 in his book Death of Naturalist. The poem speaks about a young boy who goes to the blackberry field to pick them. It also explains the speaker’s ideas about life.
  • “Blackberry-Picking” As a Representative of Life: The poem is about a simple event of blackberries picking on a late summer day. The speaker immerses himself in the enthusiastic world of late summer, a time to pick juicy blackberries. He provides an enchanting picture of the field where purple, green, and red berries are attracting his attention. After tasting the purple berries, a yearns for more.
    His friends pushed him to pick as many blackberries as they can. Filled with childish nature and innocence, the speaker starts picking the berries using various containers like jam pots, pea tins, and milk cans. He is unaware of the technicalities and the process of picking and keeping these blackberries. He is simply picking and hoarding them without considering consequences. Unfortunately, his happiness is brief and short-lived. He is disappointed to discover that the blackberries which he hoarded were rotting. Their sweet juice turned into sour, and their glossy surface was sticky. He feels sad as every year he decides to preserve them, he fails.
  • Major Themes in “Blackberry-Picking”: Growing up, greed, man versus nature, and disappointment are the major themes underlined in this literary piece. The speaker has beautifully presented the children’s innocent nature in contrast to the bitter realities of life. At first, the children are vibrant, enthusiastic, and excited about the activity they perform to satisfy their greed. They gather as many blackberries as they can to enjoy their sweetness for a long time. Unfortunately, the blackberries are getting rotten with their resultant agony and disappointment. However, it is through this simple, insignificant incident, the speaker conveys a significant lesson that things never work out as per your expectations.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Blackberry-Picking”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to convey their emotions, ideas, and themes to make texts more appealing to the reader. Seamus Heaney has also used some literary devices in this poem to explore the phenomenon of life. The analysis of some literary devices used in this poem has been stated below.

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. The sound of /f/ in ‘The fruit fermented’ and the sound of /b/ ‘With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned’.
  2. Allusion: Allusion is a belief and an indirect reference of a person, place, thing or idea of a historical, cultural, political, or literary significance. For example, in the sixteenth line, a bluebird alludes to the fairytale’s character who murders his wife.

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.”

  1. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /n/ in “With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned” and the sound of /d/ in “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.”
  2. Enjambment: It is defined as a verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it continues in the next line. For example,

“Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Among others, red, green, hard as a knot”, “Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots”, and “Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.”
  2. Simile: It is a device used to compare something with something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. For example, “Among others, red, green, hard as a knot”, “With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s” and “Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it.”
  3. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal meanings. Blueberries are a symbol of youth, joy, and happiness.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Blackberry-Picking”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter having five iambs per line. The poem follows iambic pentameter. For example, “Late August, given heavy rain and sun.”
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme and this pattern continues till the end.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some verses. There are two stanzas in this poem, with each having a different number of verses in it.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful when describing the spectacular beauty of nature.

“Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.”