Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney

I have just come back from an adventure. Blackberry picking is a sweet and aching delight, a real labour of love. Battling thorns and nettles, reaching through bramble and briar, plucking the sweet pockets of blood-black berries and plonking them into your pot. It is a tactile pleasure, as delicious to the touch as to the taste: the feel of the soft pouches of juicy fruits, the tingling, ticklish pricking from the thorns. And this evening, the sun was low and lazy, casting long, dreamy shadows over the long grass and the dusky trees of a late September. Then, walking back with my exhausted friends through the almost-tracks in the overgrown grass, laden with blackberries and heavy with the satisfaction of it all. I am effusing a great deal, I know. Sorry.

Naturally this poem is the cause and result of all my delight in this pursuit. All credit goes to Seamus: the rhythm, the imagery, the phonetic playfulness of this is an exquisite joy.

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.


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