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Analysis of Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney. Themes, language and structures

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Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney Story. In the childhood world of Blackberry-Picking, it is late August. If conditions are ripe, if there is "heavy ran and sun", the "blackberries... ripen". The first bite is addictive, and the children gather containers together and pick blackberries, enough to fill a bath. But they cannot eat them all, and "the fruit ferments". Every year the pattern repeats, they always gather too much. Structure The poem is divided into two parts, the first longer, describing the gathering of the blackberries, and their consumption, and the second about half that length, the ruin of the remainder. The line length is much greater than in the later poems, but Heaney makes an almost prose-like grammatical structure in Blackberry-Picking. Heaney quite often uses rhyme - "clot... knot", and near-rhyme, "sweet... in it", but without making it intrusive. Language The words, densely packed, peppered liberally with verbs and adjectives, establish the tone. It is intentionally almost too rich. ...read more.


The desire for the blackberries is half-sickening, a hunger that is more in the mind than in the stomach drives the pickers. They are possessive and greedy, picking even the unripe "green ones", filling a "bath". The disgust at the "rat-grey fungus" is half horror and half envy. How dare it destroy the "sweet flesh"? The child is desperate for more, each year he yearns for more blackberries, though he knows their fate. Poetic Devices Heaney makes extensive use of poetic devices in Blackberry-Picking. Examples of his alliteration include "first... flesh", "peppered... pricks... palms", "berries... byre", "fur... fungus", "fruit fermented... flesh" and "sweet... sour". Heaney also uses a vocabulary rich with varying sounds, so that saying the poem is rather like eating the blackberries, it is "like thickened wine". Similar sounding words are used frequently; "milk-cans, pea-tins, jampots", "hayfields, cornfields", "trekked and picked", "fungus, glutting", meaning that the poem must be read slowly to enjoy its deep rhythm. ...read more.


Every year the speaker challenges the laws of nature and "hopes they will keep". Even as the picking days are continuing the berries grow from "green" to "red" and finally "ink... up" to "big dark blobs". Finally, the blackberries corrupt. Only "at first,just one" be eaten. The pure enjoyment of the eating is counted by greed for more, until finally, most are lost to the processes of time, when they should have been left on the bush. The pain involved in getting them is increased when they are consumed by an outside force, the "fur". Theme Blackberry-Picking explores the dissatisfaction often involved in gaining an object of desire. Heaney is unveiling greed. The unrestrained quest for more of the same, for greater amounts of fulfilment leads to the destruction of the object of desire. Removed from its home in the sun, and hoarded, life is slowly destroyed, changed beyond recognition and enjoyment by hostile forces and by time. Often, however, the lesson is not learnt. A recurring delusion takes hold, where there is a perpetual consciousness that life, love and youth do not "keep", but the temptation for another try is always succumbed to. ...read more.

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