Seamus Heaney’s representation of the growth process of Blackberries as depicted in Blackberry-Picking
It is often said that the blacker the berry is, the sweeter its juice will be. Such is evident in Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry-Picking.” Throughout the poem, Heaney uses the symbolism of the ripening and rotting of blackberries to represent youth and death respectively. Heaney takes the seemingly innocent task of going blackberry picking in the summer and creates these complex metaphors with the physical intensity of his language. Heaney uses the symbolism of the blackberries and diction that alters from mellifluous to rancid to prove the physical intensity of the language and how everything and everyone eventually decays as we all meet our demise.
Heaney uses the symbolism of blackberries to represent the narrator’s realization that youth ends quickly. In the first stanza of the poem, the narrator is hugely excited over the prospect of picking fresh, ripe blackberries. The narrator says, “You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet like thickened wine.” The sweetness of the newly ripened blackberries is a symbol for the narrator’s youth, lust and hope in the world. But these feelings that the narrator has quickly fade as the blackberry juice begins to rot. The narrator says, “The sweet flesh would turn sour.” This is significant because the narrator comes to the realization that everything eventually dies and this causes him to lose his sense of hope in the world. Death is an inevitable part of life and it is difficult for young people to grasp this idea. Heaney uses the symbolization of the blackberries to prove these ideas of life and death.
Heaney uses varying styles of diction in each stanza to emphasize his feelings about life and death. The first stanza of the poem is filled with very euphoric diction because of the narrator’s excitement over picking the fresh blackberries. He uses words like “glossy” and “tinkling” to describe the lush blackberries while they are young and ripe. Heaney also uses warm and lively colors throughout the first stanza to prove this. The color green is the most significant in this case because green is often used to symbolize life and growth. The ripe blackberries are in their prime, as is the narrator when he is picking them. However, the second stanza changes completely. Heaney uses words like “glutting” and “stinking” to prove his sense of disapproval over the rotting of his precious pickings. He also uses colors like “rat-grey” to show how disgusting and awful that the rotting of this fruit is. The narrator is horrified and ultimately saddened by his realization that everything eventually dies and decays. The varying styles of diction that Heaney uses throughout the poem show the narrator’s changing emotions over the life and death of the blackberries.
Throughout the poem Heaney uses varying diction and symbolism of blackberries to prove the physical intensity of the language and how everything and everyone eventually dies and decays. Heaney uses blackberries specifically because of their sweet juice that is matched by no other berry. It is especially devastating to the narrator when its juice rots because it teaches the narrator the inevitable truth that nothing can stay young forever.
The secrets behind Seamus Heaney’s poem -Blackberry Picking
According to Gustave Flaubert, “poetry is as precise a thing as geometry,” and thus the meticulous usage of morbid motifs, keen imagery, and phonetic diction can unravel a darker, more complex interpretation in a seemingly innocent poem about reminiscent childhood memories. “Blackberry-Picking” by Seamus Heaney utilizes such elements in order to reveal a hidden meaning that would have, without deeper analysis, been left unnoticed.
“Blackberry-Picking” is a poetic piece that tells a story about picking blackberries in the summer as a child. The author uses extensive descriptive language in order to narrate the anecdote, comparing juicy blackberries to “thickened wine” and skillfully inserting visual adjectives like “peppered” to describe the appearance of their hands after the ordeal. These comparisons convey the extent to which the experience of picking blackberries has affected the speaker because his memory of the event is so strong. Evidently, these events have made a lasting impact on the speaker. Additionally, stories are intended to be read aloud, and this poem’s abundance of alliteration and sound devices beg to be spoken. “Rain and run,” “trekked and picked,” and “big blobs burned” are just a few of the several sound devices that the author uses to create interest within his anecdote. These devices serve to show once again the extent of the impact that the event has made on the speaker. The blackberry-picking was not a simple childhood event, but one that remained close to the speaker’s memory and heart years after it took place.
Some may argue that Heaney is simply depicting a childhood memory or even alluding to the ubiquitous cycle of life, but other clues in the poem contend that it holds a quite different meaning. Heaney uses excessive metaphors in the piece, many of which embody a common motif. The poem makes several references to blood and gore, comparing the blackberries to “summer blood,” “purple clot[s],” and even “a plate of eyes.” At first, these allusions are subtle, but the poem takes on an increasingly more morbid tone as it progresses. These references signify the theme that life is replete with pain. By the end of the poem, the author admits that the “lovely canfuls of rot” would not keep and that he “felt like crying.” Spoiling blackberries are no reason for a man to cry, and this uncalled for response suggests that the blackberries symbolize a painful memory. The unresolved issue is referenced in code as blackberries because it evokes so much discomfort that the speaker can only tell the story by addressing it as a less emotional entity like blackberries. The fact that the speaker is incapable of speaking plainly about the true meaning of the poem further substantiates the underlying message that life produces painful experiences.
In addition to the profusion of gory references, the poem contains themes of greed, lust, and power. At the end of the poem, he even admits that he hoarded the blackberries every year even though he knew that they would not all last. The speaker’s indulgent blackberry picking tradition that took place every summer as a child developed into characteristics of power-hunger and a reckless lack of self-control as an adult. His greed has led him to make decisions that result in his own suffering, which is why he constantly references blood, a symbol for pain. He expresses regret about picking the blackberries when he notes that “it wasn’t fair” that they lay to rot even though it was he who picked them. Through his life experiences, the narrator has realized that life brings forth suffering and that he is ultimately responsible for his own misery.
It is important to note the unconventional structure of the poem to understand its meaning. The poem is divided into two stanzas: the first about gathering the blackberries and the second about their decay. There is a major shift between the two stanzas from childish reckless adventure to the regretful consequences of their escapades. The second stanza is not only a reflection of the consequences of the actions taken in the first stanza, but a deviation from the cheerful story entirely. The speaker begins by narrating a pleasant childhood tradition, but later shifts to discussing the regret and sadness he experienced because of the rotting fruit. The speaker cannot even finish reflecting on a happy experience from his past without deviating onto a more upsetting topic. Growing up has made the narrator cynical and downcast, tainting his memory of a fun-filled family tradition by highlighting the depressing aspects of the blackberry-picking. Furthermore, the story about a blackberry-picking outing is not that at all; rather, it is a representation of a different event in the speaker’s life that is too painful for him to speak plainly about. This is verified by the overly emotional response in the second stanza to the natural, completely unsentimental process of decaying fruit.
In conclusion, “Blackberry-Picking” illustrates a painful coming-of-age that is difficult for the speaker to reflect upon. The blackberries are a symbol of other life events that the narrator has difficulty coping with and is ultimately responsible for because of his greed and self-indulgence. On the surface, the blackberry-picking seems to be a light-hearted memory, but the poem reveals a multi-faceted meaning based on literary clues embedded in the text.
Seamus Heaney’s View of Experiencing Joy as Expressed in His Poem-blackberry
The Moments of Happiness
Despite the variety of cultures and lifestyles throughout the world, there remains a unique element that is integral to every heritage: the universal language of joy. The little things in life are truly the things that matter, as any wise child could tell you, and it is through these experiences that one grows as an individual. For example, in his poem “Blackberry-Picking,” Seamus Heaney makes use of strong tactile imagery and sensuous poetic devices, including diction and rhythm, to appeal to the reader’s innermost, childlike senses, thus connecting with the reader on a deeper, more personal level; through this connection, Heaney uncovers the most basic and natural human instinct: greed. Heaney conveys a deeper understanding of the mechanics of life and human nature as a whole through his deceptively simple description of picking blackberries. Such an innocuous action takes on a deeper symbolism as Heaney depicts the “stains upon the tongue and lust for / Picking” (lines 7-8). Such lust is a part of human behavior; by nature, human beings are never truly satisfied with what they have, their natural greed unable to be sated. The blackberry-pickers in the poem are sent out “with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots” (Heaney 9) to fetch as many berries as they can possibly stuff in their containers. The use of spondee in this particular line not only draws the reader’s attention to the action being carried out but also places emphasis on the common household items mentioned, introducing a sense of familiarity in the first stanza of the poem. In addition, the poet relies on such intense visual and tangible imagery in order to further this personal sentiment. By candidly referring to blackberries as “a gloss purple clot / Among others, red, green, hard as a knot” (3-4), Heaney draws on a similar incident that most young children experience when exposed to a sweet blackberry for the first time, a reference that is further reinforced by the forcible use of end rhyme. Sensuous, melodious diction throughout the entire first stanza creates a soft flow reminiscent of natural human instincts, thereby solidifying the theory that such anticipatory greed is an innate part of human behavior.
What may be considered the strongest element of Seamus Heaney’s masterpiece is the sudden, dramatic shift in mood that occurs within the opening lines of the second stanza. Instead of being vivid, appealing, and reminiscent of childhood, the poem takes on a macabre, foul air; the once-luscious fruit is now overrun by “a rat-grey fungus” (Heaney 19). Such disgusting images are in drastic contrast with the sweet, juicy fruit portrayed in the first stanza of the poem, reflecting the inevitable changes wrought by the passage of time. Verbal irony only reinforces this statement when Heaney proclaims “that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot” (22), a sardonic declaration that, through contrast, emphasizes the exact opposite of what is said. As a direct consequence of the overzealous greed of the blackberry-pickers, their fruit is doomed to rot. The narrator is fully aware of the impending results of his sinful greed, yet “each year [he] hoped they’d keep, knew they would not” (Heaney 24). Man attempts to assert his dominance over nature by playing games with it, bargaining with an unswayable force.
All in all, Seamus Heaney aims to capture the moments of happiness and the little joys of life in his poem, such as the whimsical adventure of blackberry-picking; nevertheless, he does not “sugarcoat” his words and speaks bluntly about the harsh realities of life, as when he elaborates on the rancid berries. Insatiability, a natural and irrepressible force, wields influence over man and corrupts humanity as a whole, leading each individual to believe that he or she has the authority to supersede the superior presence of nature. Self-centeredness is rampant in today’s egocentric society and if unchecked, may result in the metaphorical “rotting” of the fruits of civilization, the little things that make people happy in a cold, selfish world.