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.
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