Monday, 17 September 2012

Day 87: Blackberry Picking

Another Autumn poem.  This time by Seamus Heaney, whose sense of wording and sound, rhyme and rhythm make all his poems a sensual feast. 

What better description for a blackberry than 'a glossy purple clot'? And its taste - 'sweet like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it' and the sight of them in the bucket, 'big dark blobs burned like a plate of eyes.'  The attention to detail is stunning: 'wet grass bleached our boots,' 'hands peppered with thorn pricks,' a rat-grey fungus glutting on our cache.'  Enough to make reading the poem an experience in itself.

But it's not just the wonderful words used that make this poem - it's the sentiment. Heaney manages to capture that feeling of childhood joy through the spectrum of this one event - all the fervour and  rush and excitement of it. But also, how it can be fleeting and end - just as the blackberries would rot not long after picking, 'the sweet flesh would turn sour', as the poet (a child growing older) regretfully came to know each year. 

Blackberry Picking - Seamus Heaney

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. 


  1. Such a descriptive poem and from one who has felt the prick of blackberries (and dewberries, etc) I can relate to the detailed visual. It also for me takes on the child's viewpoint of sensation, relishing in the "gross" senses of the picking.


  2. There was a great patch on the verge between the Buncrana Surgery and Duffy's pharmacy where I yearly indulged my love of blackberries. Alas they have now been replaced by a parking lot. As a young person I had to work at picking blackberries in order to supplement my family's income. That was not fun.

  3. Hi Genie, thanks for stopping by here!
    It does indeed focus on the child's viewpoint, and yes, the description it so detailed and wonderful!


  4. Hi Margie, there are lots of blackberry bushes at Swan's Park - well, as you start to go up the brae to the shore - in a field at the side there. I remember going on picking escapades when I was younger! And ending up with scratches all over and falling into mud and dodging spiders - eeew! But it was worth it at the end - the ensuing blackberry jam and the lovely purple juice everywhere!


I'd love to hear what you think! To leave a comment - comment as/sign in with your Google ID if you have one, or website or blog address, or if these don't apply, sign in as Anonymous, and leave your name if you like!