Blackberry Picking forms part of Seamus Heaney’s first published collection and it is dedicated to Philip Hobsbaum (Heaney, 1999). He was one of Heaney’s tutors at Queen’s University Belfast. The main theme of many of Heaney’s poems was growing up and he took inspiration from his childhood and nature. (Seamus Heaney, 2020). Blackberry Picking appears to explore the optimism of life, having hope and anticipation as children, followed by disappointment as you get older. Religious connotations appear in the poem, in relation to Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, when the fruit is picked and it turns rotten.
Blackberry picking is divided into two stanzas, and these stanzas are heavily contrasted, (Owlcation, 2020), with the first representing the exciting and undiscovered experiences of childhood and the second being the harsh reality of ageing. The first stanza contains sixteen lines and the second contains eight. (Owlcation, 2020). Each line contains five feet with two syllables each, this is known as iambic pentameter. The syllables are unstressed followed by a stressed one. Blackberry-Picking follows a set rhyme scheme of aa bb cc, and so on. (Alliteration | Literary Devices, 2020). The poem sees the narrator reminiscing fondly on his childhood, when he and his friends would pick blackberries in the summer and become captivated by their alluring colours and mouth-watering flavour. (Heaney, 1999).
The language used to describe blackberry-picking is fairly violent and aggressive: the ‘briars scratched’ and the ‘wet grass bleached our boots.’ (BP:10). Afterwards, the speaker’s ‘hands were peppered / With thorn pricks.’ (BP:15/16). Heaney makes use of a metaphor when he calls the blackberry a clot, rather than a fruit or berry, (BP:3), this tells the reader the colour of the berry, but also alludes to the texture and feeling of it. As a berry bursts similar to how a clot does.
The second stanza of the poem is when the realization that the fruit always goes bad sinks in. Blackberries ripening could be likened to children maturing and the inevitability of growing up and the disappointment that brings. There is reflection on the sorrowfulness of the loss of innocence and the realization of what happens when children grow up. When Heaney describes how the blackberries looked in the pail he uses a simile, comparing two things in a different way (Alliteration | Literary Devices, 2020). He writes; “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”. (BP:15/15/16).
Line fourteen contains alliteration; (Alliteration | Literary Devices, 2020). The letter b is replicated in words adjacent to each other, Highlighting the image of the blackberries that looked like eyes in a bucket. From line eighteen to twenty-four there is a complete contrast to the first seventeen lines, the use of juxtaposition. (Alliteration | Literary Devices, 2020). The first part is optimistic and joyful, however, the final part is the realization of the truth: that everything goes rotten eventually. One word interprets the change of tone here: but. No matter how many berries are picked, they all go bad in the end. (Heaney, 1999).
- Literary Devices. 2020. Alliteration | Literary Devices. [online] https://literary-devices.com/content/alliteration [Accessed 27 March 2020].
- Owlcation. 2020. How To Analyse A Poem For Exams Or Pleasure. [online] https://owlcation.com/academia/How-To-Analyse-A-Poem-For-Exams-Or-Pleasure [Accessed 27 March 2020].
- Biography. 2020. https://www.biography.com/writer/seamus-heaney [Accessed 27 March 2020].
- Heaney, S. 1999. Death Of A Naturalist. Faber and Faber