Sidewinder asked in Arts & HumanitiesPoetry · 1 decade ago

BLACKBERRY PICKING ..... poem by Seamus Heaney analysis please?

Trying to support daughter homework but our older views of how we read this and analise it are totally different to hers and she says this will reflect in her work. Surely we are allowed to be supportive and pass on our contribution or has education changed that much that we are now banned from even doing this? Please help with your views and pointers please.


She talks about Stanza's and has to use similies and metaphors


Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For the full week, the blackberries 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 the fur, a Rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.The juice was stinking too. ...cont'd...

Update 2:

Once off the bush the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would soon turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It was not fair that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

8 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer


    In the childhood world of Blackberry-Picking, it is late August. If conditions are ripe, if there is "heavy ran and sun", the "blackberries... ripen". The first bite is addictive, and the children gather containers together and pick blackberries, enough to fill a bath. But they cannot eat them all, and "the fruit ferment[s]". Every year the pattern repeats, they always gather too much.


    The poem is divided into two parts, the first longer, describing the gathering of the blackberries, and their consumption, and the second about half that length, the ruin of the remainder. The line length is much greater than in the later poems, but Heaney makes his customary use of enjambment and an almost prose-like grammatical structure in Blackberry-Picking. Heaney quite often uses rhyme - "clot... knot", and near-rhyme, "sweet... in it", but without making it intrusive.


    The words, densely packed, peppered liberally with verbs and adjectives, establish the tone. It is intentionally almost too rich. The poem fills the mouth as the blackberries do. The poem becomes hypnotic in its unrelenting linguistic intensity. However, the poet is careful to balance the copiously sonorous phrases with words that more than hint at a darker side to the bounty of blackberries.


    Heaney makes scant use of any pronoun in the first part of the poem. There is a reference to "you", used in an impersonal, educational manner - "you ate the first one... ", and a reference to "we" and "our". It is, however, the blackberries that are allowed to dominate this part of the poem. The second part allows the speaker and his unnamed companions to intrude upon the opulent nature of the blackberries. However, all their emotions are involved in the "lovely canfuls".


    The "lust" for blackberries is a blood lust. Their "flesh [is] sweet", like "blood". The children are willing to suffer a great deal of pain to satisfy "that hunger". Then Heaney's tone becomes decidedly ominous - the blackberries are "like a plate of eyes", their palms are stained with the juice, as "Bluebeard's" were stained with blood.

    The final part of the poem is an desolate relation of the half-innocent greed of the blackberry-pickers, and their horror and jealousy at their prize's ruin. They "hoard" the blackberries in the way that the "rat-grey fungus... glut[s]" on it. It continues in the petulant tone of an upset child - "It wasn't fair/That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot" and concludes in a more distant, grave, accepting tone, revealing that even the child knew the berries would not "keep".


    The luxurious rhythm and language of the poem leads to an indulgent, but slightly oppressive mood, as if the reader is immersed in the "heavy rain and sun" of "late August". The desire for the blackberries is half-sickening, a hunger that is more in the mind than in the stomach drives the pickers. They are possessive and greedy, picking even the unripe "green ones", filling a "bath". The disgust at the "rat-grey fungus" is half horror and half envy. How dare it destroy the "sweet flesh"? The child is desperate for more, each year he yearns for more blackberries, though he knows their fate.

    Poetic Devices.

    Heaney makes extensive use of poetic devices in Blackberry-Picking. Examples of his alliteration include "first... flesh", "peppered... pricks... palms", "berries... byre", "fur... fungus", "fruit fermented... flesh" and "sweet... sour". Heaney also uses a vocabulary rich with varying sounds, so that saying the poem is rather like eating the blackberries, it is "like thickened wine". Similar sounding words are used frequently; "milk-cans, pea-tins, jampots", "hayfields, cornfields", "trekked and picked", "fungus, glutting", meaning that the poem much be read slowly to savour its resonant cadences.


    There are three primary images in Blackberry-Picking. There are the child blackberry-pickers, carrying "milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots", the "fur" that steals their treasure, and the blackberries themselves.

    The children are an image of unrestrained desire. They succumb to the "lust for/Picking" easily, savouring the sweet taste of the first berry, but hoarding the rest in numbers they cannot possibly consume. They are controlled by their craving. They, too, represent humanity in the poem, in their envy of that which is "gutting on [their] cache", and their sense of injustice - "it [isn't] fair" that what they have so greatly desired and gained is snatched from them by the swift processes of time.

    The "fungus" is the first explanation called by the speaker for the destruction of their "cache". It aids in the destruction of their fruit, and is the object of their hatred and derision. However, "once off the bush... the sweet flesh would turn sour" by its nature. The speaker knows this, although he does not acknowledge it to the end of the poem.

    The blackberries attract several differing connotations. First, they are part of childhood, a yearly summer ritual, an object of enjoyment, of "trekk[ing] and pick[ing]" throughout the countryside. The childhood-pleasure aspect of blackberry picking is emphasised by the children's choice of containers - household objects, cheap and in easy reach.

    Next, the blackberries are intensely desirable, they are "glossy purple", they have "sweet flesh", they "tinkl[e]" pleasantly when thrown into a container. It is their richness that is so desirable, their contents "summer's blood".

    They are also ephemeral, which is part of their desirability. Every year the speaker challenges the laws of nature and "hope[s] they [will] keep". Even as the picking days are continuing the berries grow from "green" to "red" and finally "ink... up" to "big dark blobs". They change inexorably, finally, "once off the bush" and finally "smel[l] of rot".

    Finally, the blackberries corrupt. Only "at first [can] just one" be eaten. The pure enjoyment of the eating is subsumed by greed for more, until finally, most are lost to the processes of time, when they should have been left on the bush. The pain involved in getting them is multiplied when they are consumed by an outside force, the "fur".


    Blackberry-Picking explores the dissatisfaction often involved in gaining an object of desire. Heaney is unveiling greed. The unrestrained quest for more of the same, for greater amounts of fulfilment leads to the destruction of the object of desire. Removed from its home in the sun, and hoarded, life is slowly destroyed, changed beyond recognition and enjoyment by hostile forces and by time.

    Often, however, the lesson is not learnt. A recurring delusion takes hold, where there is a perpetual consciousness that life, love and youth do not "keep", but the temptation for another try is always succumbed to.

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  • 3 years ago

    Blackberry Picking Poem

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  • 3 years ago

    Blackberry Picking Analysis

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  • 5 years ago

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    BLACKBERRY PICKING ..... poem by Seamus Heaney analysis please?

    Trying to support daughter homework but our older views of how we read this and analise it are totally different to hers and she says this will reflect in her work. Surely we are allowed to be supportive and pass on our contribution or has education changed that much that we are now banned from...

    Source(s): blackberry picking poem seamus heaney analysis please:
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  • John W
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    Everyone says about the same thing about this poem -- so why should I be any different?

    Heaney uses a powerful and sensual description of berrypicking to make a point about the TRANSIENCE OF EXPERIENCE.

    Experience is fleeting. When you experience something good (like the taste of fresh, off-the-vine blackberries) the impulse is to try to hoard it up, to save a huge store for later.

    The problem is that it's impossible. Once you hoard things up, they begin to change, to rot, to sour.

    This is probably one of those BASIC SAD FACTS OF LIFE. We try to HOLD ON to good things, but the very act of CLUTCHING TO THEM causes them to sour.

    Look at marriage -- we perform a ceremony to somehow capture and extend love ... but for a lot of people, love sours. We make promises to people, and in the act of promising, the original feeling gets knocked a little off kilter.

    THE OTHER BIG POINT is that IT DOESN'T MATTER whether we know this ... the berry-pickers know that their berries will rot and sour -- but they can't help themselves. Every year they find themselves hoarding up a store of them.

    So understanding the fact intellectually has no real bearing on that human impulse to try to HANG ON TO THE FLEETING.

    FINAL IDEA: So what about poetry? literature? isn't poetry just another way of "picking berries," trying to hang on to fleeting experience? Does that mean that art is fore-doomed? That eventually you'll have nothing but a stinking, moldy mess?

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  • 1 decade ago

    In a lecture given to students at Oxford University, Seamus Heaney compared

    the writing of poetry to the creation of a labyrinth, one that mirrors the

    gruesome contortions our own world assumes at times. The difference is,

    however, that the poet's labyrinth, the poem, has the power to restore us,

    to reset the balance.

    Heaney displays those restorative powers wonderfully in this poem. The

    arrival of joy and the subsequent convulsive preparations to capture every

    last drop of it ("...with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots") are honest to the

    rich sensations of childhood experience. The poem itself is laden with

    strange rich fruit, sweet clammy experience ready to be tasted and stored.

    This, finally, is art true to life.

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  • Anonymous
    3 years ago


    Source(s): Hypnosis Tricks
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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    could you please either link or post the actual poem please, it is not one i am familiar with.

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