Saturday, August 31, 2013

blackberry picking

Blackberry Picking

by 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. mmmmm, yes, seamus))))


  2. thank you for this. heaney was, for me, perhaps the most important contemporary poet (if such a distinction means anything). certainly, it was through his early work, like this poem, that i began to feel some sense of what poetry could be in my own life (and that coming at a time of very low ebb, indeed, as a kind of grace), and he was always the model of what it might mean to live a life in poetry, with principle and violence to no one.

    all the eulogies and praise around the internet seem well intended but inadequate, though i don't know what i would have people say. probably the best thing is just what you have done here -- offer the poems and let them stand. i can't think of death at the end of such a valuable and fulfilled life as a "loss" -- and yet, still i mourn. i didn't know the man, only the work, but i think the work must have expressed the man, and i don't think i am exaggerating to say that i loved him :-)


    1. I feel much as you do, James, though I have not explored him as you have. You expressed it very beautifully. I do not own a volume of his poetry, I have only read a sampling of his poems. But they, and he, went straight in, and I cherished him, though I did not realize how much, truly how much, until the shock of his passing. When I feel the presence of such a person, one who does not "make injustice the only measure of his attention and so praise the devil" as Jack Gilbert wrote (my paraphrase), I have great hope for this life, this world. I love him too.

      I bought a postcard of the portrait of him by Peter Edwards at the National Portrait Gallery in London a few years ago and tacked it on the board above my office desk. I moved it with me when I moved offices and tacked it up again. What is this power he expresses in us?

      I would like him to help me be a better poet, to live a life in poetry, with principle and violence to no one. Yess.

  3. I very much like the appreciations here. Heaney was always a beacon poet — and human being — to me right from the early days of Death of a Naturalist. And he caught the imagination and gained the respect, yes and love, of poets and politicians and artists and people of all kinds around the world. I think he 'taught' us through humble yet self-confident example, ever the diplomat, ever speaking subtleties rather than dogma, giving us the slant and richly layered view, which was the true view. His moralism was a natural, human, generous one — no preachy clichés. He was admired by Catholic, Protestant and atheist alike. His love of and gift for language, and his ability to dig deep into the resonances and possibilities of language, were quite unparalleled in our time. I could write about so much here: his translations, his courteousness, his quiet encouragement of younger poets, his tender and erotic take on married life (how rare this is), his extraordinary essays on other writers, his sociability yet necessarily introspective creative retreat into remote Co. Wicklow... A remarkable man, a remarkable writer. Like many people (Heaney was accessible and approachable), my mother-in-law met him once in Sligo and was hugely impressed and affected by the encounter. Ireland, the world, had Yeats. And now it's been blessed to have had a true successor.

    1. Robert, thank you for your wonderful bio of praise.

  4. Isn't it odd. I was reading Heaney Thursday night & the CG came in & said all of her Irish friends were upset because he had passed. My heart stopped. How could it be? Poetry so vibrant & alive comes from no mere mortal.He was meant to live forever. How grateful we can be for his words, for his life, that he so lived it, and for poems like this one (a personal favorite), that we may cherish them all ways. Thank you.


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