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Plath and Heaney - In this essay I will be looking at 3 poems, by two very different authors.

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Charlotte Squires 11KBO 8th December 2002 Plath and Heaney In this essay I will be looking at 3 poems, by two very different authors. The first poem that I shall be studying is Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath. Plath was the ill-fated wife of the poet Ted Hughes, and committed suicide in 1963. A lot of her work has a dark side to it, and aside from poems, she also wrote an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. The Irish poet Seamus Heaney writes both the other poems that I shall be looking at, Blackberry Picking and An Advancement of Learning. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995, and many of his works feature themes of how trivial experiences can change our lives. In the first line of Blackberrying, we are immediately overcome with a feeling of loneliness and isolation. 'Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries.' This is a very negative way in which to start the poem, but as you read on, something else becomes apparent - that the blackberries dominate everything, and shadow everything else into unimportance. At the moment, the lane seems quite innocent, but it also makes us wonder why she is being compelled to walk along it. The word Blackberries is mentioned three times in the first three lines, and they are so important to the woman picking them that we are even given totally insignificant details about them. 'Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly.' We are told that they grow mostly on the right, but this doesn't add at all to our understanding of the poem. It is just a small detail, that although it means nothing to us, it shows us just how important the blackberries are to the woman. In the next line, Plath writes of a 'Blackberry alley', which gives us more of a location, and a scene in which to picture the events happening. ...read more.


Both flesh and blood are vital for human survival, and by mentioning them here, Heaney gives the impression that the berries are indeed vital for him if he is to survive. Throughout this poem Heaney uses 'we', 'you' and 'us' - the complete opposite of the feeling of isolation that was present in Plath's poem. There is strong imagery here as well, both from the colours and the description of the berries. In the next few lines we are told how, although it was hard, the boys persevered until they had picked the berries. They were scratched, and ruined their boots, but they trekked and picked until their cans were full. This gives us an insight into how important the berries were for the boys. 'Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.' Here there is alliteration of the letter 'p', and it also tells us of another thing that the boys had to endure whilst picking the berries - thorn pricks on their hands. 'Sticky as Bluebeard's' is a rather odd simile, to which we are given no insight to the meaning. In the next and final stanza of this poem, there is an obvious change in the mood. It goes from having the air of happy childhood memories to an unpleasant, nasty mood. 'We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre. But when the bath was filled we found a fur.' Here there are lots of hard, 'f' sounds, linking in with the harshness of the nasty surprise that the boys found when they looked at the berries. They hoarded the berries, much like someone would hoard money or other important goods. The line telling how they 'found a fur' is a sharp contrast to the tone in the previous lines. The next lines further develop on this unpleasantness. 'A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache. The juice was stinking too. ...read more.


For all his life, the man has avoided the bridge for fear of meeting a rat, but now he has conquered that fear and is able to walk freely across the bridge. As I said before, this poem could stand for the transition into adulthood, and maybe the man finally crossing the bridge is symbolising him becoming a man. The man has grown up, and there is also a recognition of loss in the final line. This poem, like the others, has no regular rhyme or rhythm. There are many descriptive details, and Heaney makes good use of alliteration to emphasise his point. Both Plath and Heaney use a lot of description in their poems. This allows the reader to really visualise what is happening, and coupled with their powerful language, it makes for a wonderful poem. Both also use alliteration well - it emphasises the hard sounds in the case of the rat, and the soft sounds where the blackberries are concerned. I really enjoyed these poems, but I liked 'An Advancement of Learning' most. This is because, from the very first line I felt compelled to read on, and find out what happened, something that I didn't find with the other two. 'Blackberrying' and 'Blackberry Picking' are similar, but only in the fact that they are about the same subject. Plath focuses on the blackberries themselves, while Heaney focuses more on the eagerness of picking them, and the disappointment when they went sour. By looking at all these poems, I have seen that although they may be similar in some aspects, especially in 'Blackberrying' and 'Blackberry Picking', Plath and Heaney are two very different poets. Plath deals with the darker aspects of life, whilst Heaney focuses on childhood fears and disappointments. All of us can identify with issues like these, and I think that is why both Plath and Heaney are so popular - people are able to identify with the topics that they raise, and this allows the reader to get into the very heart of the poem. ...read more.

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