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Blackberry-picking -- Seamus Heaney

Guest poem submitted by Aamir Ansari:
(Poem #934) 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.
-- Seamus Heaney
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.


[Minstrels Links]

Poems by Seamus Heaney:
Poem #61, Song
Poem #883, Personal Helicon
Poem #934, Blackberry-picking

Poems on related topics:
Poem #827, Strawberries -- Edwin Morgan
Poem #274, This Is Just To Say  -- William Carlos Williams
Poem #377, Loveliest of trees, the cherry now  -- A. E. Housman
Poem #430, Wild Asters  -- Sara Teasdale
Poem #417, Thistles  -- Ted Hughes
Poem #63, Daffodils  -- William Wordsworth

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