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Blackberry Picking is a poem rich in imagery and symbolism -from the macabre linking of the fruit to a ‘plate of eyes’ capable of staring at the young Heaney and intensifying his sense of guilt, to the link between this apparently innocent fruit picking and the altogether more guilt-ridden picking of forbidden fruit in Eden and subsequent punishment through the perpetual torment described in the closing line – ‘each year I hoped… Here Heaney uses the trochaic substitution of the 4th foot to drive home the sense of despair as his hopes are dashed annually.
Tasting the blackberries – juicy, voluptuous, sweet – is a sensual experience, much like our first kiss or our first sexual experience. One of the masterly things about ‘Blackberry-Picking’ as a poem, in fact, is the way in which Heaney hints at the deeper significance of the act without, as it were, laying it on with a trowel.
Late August – the last gasps of summer before autumn and that ‘back to school’ feeling returns at the end of the summer holidays – is an apt time to begin experiencing a sense of disillusionment with life, but it is a fact that this is when blackberries are ripe to be picked.
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Image: Seamus Heaney in the studio with his portrait by Colin Davidson.
But of course ‘Blackberry-Picking’ is not just about the literal experience of picking blackberries.
The poem appeared in Seamus Heaney’s first volume of poems, , published in 1966, when Heaney was in his mid-twenties.Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited.The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.Similarly, the fruit-picking calls to mind the biblical story from the Book of Genesis, that loss of paradise brought on when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree: they gained worldly knowledge, but in doing so lost their innocence.But Heaney doesn’t choose to overstress this, any more than the fact that the berries – placed in a bath in a shed – are associated with the infant Jesus lying in his manger in the stable, that setting of a million nativity plays (and Jesus’ time on earth, of course, culminated in his self-sacrifice that was made necessary by Adam and Eve’s fruity temptation and subsequent Fall). We apologize for any inconvenience, and thank you for your visiting.A critical reading of a classic Heaney poem Seamus Heaney’s ‘Blackberry-Picking’ is one of the great twentieth-century poems about disappointment, or, more specifically, about that moment in our youth when we realise that things will never live up to our high expectations.It’s a rite of passage that we all go through, though it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when disillusionment begins to cloud our clear and sunny skies of hope.The clichéd example is when we discover there’s no Santa Claus, but in ‘Blackberry-Picking’ the speaker’s realisation does not come all of a sudden: note how in the poem’s second stanza he says he ‘ I hoped they’d keep’.The speaker recalls the sense of disappointment he and his fellow blackberry-pickers felt when they discovered that the berries had fermented and a fungus was growing on the fruit.He says that this made him sad, and he came to realise that this would always happen: soon after the berries had been picked, they would go rotten.