Seamus Heaney

(April 13,1939 - August 30, 2013 / Castledàwson, County Londonderry)

Blackberry-Picking


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.

Submitted: Wednesday, December 28, 2011

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  • Eleanor Brynes (12/30/2013 1:42:00 PM)

    A deliciously evocative poem, alight with the vivid sensations of summer and nature's fragile bounty. And against this is calibrated a child's awakening and somewhat wilful comprehension of how he interacts with it, and of his place in it.
    I really enjoy this poem every time I read it, quite viscerally, as if I am consuming it afresh each time. (Report) Reply

  • Patrick Haughey (11/9/2013 3:37:00 PM)

    Ahhh; what a picture this paints, no matter what video or film, nothing can compare to words on page and none better than the late Seamus Heaney (Report) Reply

  • Patricia Grantham (9/5/2013 7:29:00 PM)

    A precious activity that we as children liked to do was
    picking blackberries. It was a delectable berry that grew
    amongst the thorns. We risked scratches and stickings in
    order to obtain this luscious berry that could be eaten fresh
    or fermented for wine. They wont stay fresh very long. A nice
    write. (Report) Reply

  • Firstname Surname (9/1/2013 9:35:00 AM)

    Jon, it might help to read the blackberries as symbol of all sorts of childhood attachments, sweet in the moment, impossible to preserve. (Report) Reply

  • Jon Blake (9/1/2013 2:07:00 AM)

    I remembered this poem when we went brambling this year, jusr after Heaney had died. I am not one of the people who believe that a poem has to be mournful to be credible, and the ending of this one strikes me as plain ridiculous. Ok, it might be a grave disappointment when the first lot of berries go mouldy, but only an idiot would let them repeatedly go rotten. (Report) Reply

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