Seamus Heaney: Blackberry Picking

Carrying on our variation of a topic, we take a look at Seamus Heaney’s entry into the world of fruit poems.


for Philip Hobsbaum

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.
Much like Plath, one of Heaney’s greatest strengths is found in his descriptions. Think of the “The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap / Of soggy peat” from “Digging” to get a sense of the exactness of the words he uses. His poems often seem to have a sense of texture to them, and “Blackberry-Picking” is no exception.
At it’s heart, “Blackberry-Picking” deals with the earth; with being hands-on, with putting in the work. The thing about the earth, however, is that it isn’t here for us and doesn’t work in our time; an idea Heaney captures beautifully well in the last line of his poem. It’s then for us to enjoy what we can, when we can, all the while knowing that what we find fulfilling and worthwhile today will very likely pass on tomorrow.

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