Thursday, September 6, 2012

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.

Seamus Heaney


  1. My grandfather grew blackberries. they were a pain to pick.we had them I big bowls of milk.

  2. I used this with my Oxy students as the basis for a found poem. Love the language here--

  3. Did you grow up in DeKalb? Or just read my memory?

  4. I remember a week trip to Squim in Washington. Bought a cheap bike and proceeded to pedal about the area. What struck me is that the berries grew by the side of the road like weeds. Trout and salmon in rivers, fruit and apples growing wild. All for the taking. Wonder if this is what the 19th century felt like.

    Next time I see you, you can tell me about your class at Oxy.

  5. Beautiful - thanks for sharing.

  6. P: Gee, tell us more about deKalb.
    PA: You're on.
    B:It IS beautiful--I've had this book for years that I've dipped into, and only discovered this poem this past week.

  7. I have blackberry vines in a secret place by the back fence. I don't share the fruits with anyone, even the sparrows or my dog. In the hottest part of July, the berries come ripe, some dead ripe, some past ripe. And I stand there, eating them all at once, by the handful. Because you need to stuff at least four blackberries in your mouth to appreciate the full flavor. And you need to get your fingers stained and some juice running down the front of your shirt. And this is not a metaphor, it's only about blackberries.

  8. It's exactly what you said. When we were kids, at blackberry time, my dad would round us up and load us into the Ford Galaxy station wagon. We'd each get a bucket. Outside of town, along the country roadsides, blackberries grew in patches, wild and wherever. My dad knew the places. We would pick and eat, pick and eat, but those buckets got full.

    About ten years ago I was in DeKalb for a class reunion. I drove my rental car onto a side road at the edge of town and pulled over at a spot that looked familiar. It wasn't exactly the same--town had grown up around it. But something drew me to it and I got out of the car. Blackberries. I recognized the spot, even with the road and houses nearby. A woman came out on her porch and told me I was on private property. She was nice about it. I apologized, got in the car, drove away. I didn't tell her I had once stood on her property when it was anyone's and everyone's, when her neglected berries had been mine and my dad's, and we had filled our bellies and our buckets for free, for goddamn free.

  9. PB--You go! Thanks for the clarification, AH :)