Blackberry Picking

Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet was born on the 13th of April 1939 in Northern Ireland. Born into an agricultural family, Heaney spent majority of his childhood amongst trees, plants, crops and cultivation. Seamus Heaney’s poems depict his childhood i.e. are an allegory of his childhood. Set in the Irish Farms the poem is written in first person. Through ‘Blackberry Picking’ Heaney recalls his yearly practice of picking the Blackberries late summer. On the first read, the theme of the poem may seem to be ‘Blackberries’, but through his poetry Heaney also addresses the aspects of Greed and End.’Blackberry Picking’ begins by presenting the picking of Blackberries. Heaney makes abundant use adjectives to describe the succulence of the berries and the pleasure that waits. He refers to them as ‘sweet flesh’, illustrating their tenderness and flavour. Heaney uses a simile to compare the taste of the blackberry to that of thickened wine. Phrases such as ‘Like…was in it’1, exemplify the brightness and warmth it brings with it. How it was specific to summer and lit up the atmosphere. Heaney makes use of many adjectives of colour, suggesting that the excitement was such that the collectors picked up any berry they saw; purple, red and green (unripe). The following lines give a picture of the sheer joy and excitement the berries brought with them. The fervour was such that the hoarders took containers of every shape and size ranging from milk cans to jam pots.Towards the end of the first half Heaney makes a reference to Bluebeard. Bluebeard is a fairy tale character who murders his wives. At first, the example seems irrelevant as a fairy tale character and blackberries have nothing in common. This is a result of enjambment. The idea in the previous line has an abrupt end and then carries on into the next line. The complete line reads ‘Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s’2. Here Heaney uses a simile the dark sticky blackberry juice on the collector’s hands to the blood on Bluebeard’s hands.Here Heaney makes a direct linkage to murder. Murder of the blackberries, how once picked the berries will soon perish. Carrying on from this idea, Heaney moves on to explain how quickly a berry perishes. How the lusciousness of the fresh fruit fades out and ‘fur’3 and ‘rat grey fungus’4 set in. ‘…grey fungus’5 , another reference to colour. The berries which were once like ‘thickened wine’6 now smell of rot. The poem closes with ‘Each year…they would not’7. Here Heaney shows his acceptance to the fact that despite his hope, he knows that the berries would eventually rot and he would have to discard them.As mentioned above, Heaney’s poems depict his childhood, greed and end. In the poem Heaney has shown us that humans are like children and in their eagerness to achieve they collect almost anything and everything they think will bring them happiness. But they fail to realize that with time the things will ‘rot’ and would become useless. Also it can be said that Heaney has compared human life to the blackberries, and like the rotting of the blackberries, humans also deteriorate with age and eventually life has to come to an end. One hopes for perpetual sustenance, but knows that the end is inevitable.Written in a single block, the poem has no stanzas and has a gradual progression of ideas. The poem is divided into two parts. The first part of the poem i.e. ‘Late August…byre’8 describes the picking of blackberries, the hope and the enjoyment. The second half of the poem i.e. ‘But when…not’9 portrays disappointment and grief. How end is inevitable. Heaney throughout the poem makes use of enjambment and the poem has a prose like grammatical structure. The lines are short and have sudden ends. The abrupt endings give the poem a bouncy rhythm and a continuation of thoughts. Heaney many a time makes use of rhyme in the poem.For instance ‘clot’10 and ‘knot’11 , here there is complete rhyme but in many places such as ‘sweet and in it’12 and ‘sun and ripen’13 there is partial rhyme. The rhyme adds to the rhythm of the poem. The mood of the poem in the first half is of indulgence and greed i.e. happiness and excitement whereas in the second half it is of sadness and disappointment. Indulgence and greed so to say as the collectors are shown picking up even the unripe berries. The tone of the poem towards the beginning is of joy and excitement as the children seek the blackberry unscrupulously. Thereafter in the middle segment of the poem the tone becomes worrying as the blackberries are described as ‘like a plate of eyes’14 and are compared to Bluebeard. Towards the end, the tone of the poem is huffy as the child is saddened by the rotting of his cache. The poem concludes with a tone of acceptance, acceptance of the fact that everything has to come to an end.The language used in the poem is very vivid and is filled with adjectives. The words are tightly packed and are easy to comprehend. The descriptive language makes the reader experience the same feelings as the collector and feel as if he is picking the berries. The reader starts to feel the blackberries in his mouth. The excitement depicted in the first half is hushed by the description of what happens to the berries thereafter. In the first part of the poem, Heaney makes negligible use of personal pronoun and lets the blackberry remain the centre of focus. He makes use of ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘our’ but this is done in an educational manner to drive home the feelings associated with the berries. In the second part of the poem, he refers to the fading sumptuous blackberries and how it leaves ‘him’ in disappointment.The title of the poem i.e. ‘Blackberry Picking’ has direct linkage to the text of the poem. The poem uses the simple childhood act of picking blackberries as the central idea. Throughout the poem Heaney makes use of descriptive language and vivid descriptions. The images help the reader visualize and enjoy the experience. Examples of imagery are profuse in the poem, ranging from visual to gustatory. Examples of visual imagery can be seen in ‘…a glossy purple clot’15, here the reader can imagine a purple clot and draw similarities between the berry and the clot. Auditory imagery can be seen in ‘Until the tinkling…’16 here the reader can imagine the berry dropping to the bottom of the can and the resulting tinkle.Olfactory imagery can be seen in ‘…smelt of rot’17 and ‘…stinking too’18; here the reader can imagine the unpleasant odours. Kinaesthetic imagery can be seen in ‘with thorn pricks…’19 here the reader can visualize the bruising created by the sharp thorn. Gustatory imagery can be seen in ‘…flesh was sweet’20 and ‘…flesh would turn sour’21; here the reader can feel the flavours in his mouth. Instances of imagery are abundant and it helps in comprehension of the poem. Other figures of speech used in the poem are alliteration .Examples of alliteration are ‘first…flesh’22, ‘peppered…pricks…palms’23 and ‘fruit fermented…flesh’24. Heaney makes use of similar sounding words such as ‘milk cans and pea tins’25 , ‘hayfields and cornfields’26 and ‘trekked and picked’27, this gives the poem a reverberating tempo.To conclude, ‘Blackberry Picking’ highlights important aspects of human greed and end. Human beings are insatiable beings and it is difficult to fulfil their desires. One of the misconceptions that we have is that once we achieve/accumulate something, it is going to remain with us all our life. Everything has a life span and thereafter its end is inevitable. This poem has taught me that we should be happy with what we have and not accumulate regardless of need. We should appreciate what we have. Our unrealistic hope will bring a lot of disappointment. It has taught me to accept change, as everything I have or will have will eventually come to an end. ‘Blackberry Picking’ is a straight forward thought provoking poem by Seamus Heaney.

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