Analysis of Blackberry Picking Poem by Seamus Heaney

Blackberry Picking – A Seemingly Unimportant Event

In Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking” he vividly recreates a seemingly unimportant event in which he goes blackberry picking. However by the end of the poem this experience acquires increased significance. Throughout Heaney’s description of this event we are made aware of the theme, Heaney’s childish hopes and dreams in contrast to the harsh realities of life. This theme is effectively conveyed through the mood of excitement and anticipation in the first stanza while picking the berries which transforms into an atmosphere of disappointment and regret in the second stanza as the children’s berries have rotted. Heaney is able to develop this supposed insignificant event using techniques such as word-choice, sentence structure, imagery, contrast and tone.

In the first stanza Heaney conveys picking berries as an unimportant summer experience. The blackberries represent the life and excitement that summer is:“summer’s blood was in it” This interesting use of imagery suggests that the berries somehow come alive because of the life and excitement of the summer months. This metaphor also gives connotations of the fertility and birth of the berries which shows the excitement of the children when these new berries arrive. However, Heaney immediately sets the scene, “late August...” which shows that the blackberries are an annual thing which conveys that they aren’t that important as they grow each year. The reader can understand the mood of excitement at this point which gives us a clearer understanding of the poems theme, Heaney’s childish hopes and dreams in contrast to the harsh realities of life which are recognized later in the poem yet we are aware at this point that blackberry picking is not a major event.

This seemingly unimportant event encourages the children’s excitement. After tasting the berries a hunger for more grows inside Heaney and his friend’s which creates a “lust for picking”. The word-choice of “lust” gives connotations of the children’s uncontrollable desire to pick as many berries as they possibly could. Whilst simultaneously conveying the children’s desperation and eagerness to satisfy their taste buds. It is clear that the children’s hunger for berries conveys the mood of anticipation. However, the blackberries came with their disadvantages as they were “Leaving stains”. This image represents a sign of sin as if the berries are forbidden fruit but the children have such a craving for them they cannot resist the berries. Also this negative use of word-choice suggests that disappointment is yet to come. Heaney’s interesting development of his experience gives the reader a clear understanding of his childish hopes and dreams.

The children’s lack of organisation suggests that picking the berries is less important to them. In the rush to get out and pick the berries various containers are used:“... milk cans, pea tins, jam pots...” Heaney’s use of sentence structure conveys the disorganisation and hurry of the children to go and pick the blackberries. This list also suggests a childish nature as the children are not properly prepared for the arrival of the berries. This technique also suggests that many different containers were used to collect the berries. The reader can understand how picking the berries seem insignificant at this point as the children are not ready for the arrival of the berries.

However, in the second stanza disappointment overcomes the children causing Heaney’s experience to become more significant. After a while the blackberries begin to rot: “we found a fur, a rat grey fungus, glutting on our cache” The word-choice of “fur” and “fungus” gives connotations of disease and vermin. This also contrasts to the “glossy purple” berries collected in the first stanza which effectively conveys the theme of childish hopes in contrast to the harsh realities of life. At this point disappointment has set in among the children making this experience more important to Heaney. Looking back now Heaney may see this as a life lesson, learning as a child that things don’t always work out the way you want them too. At this key point in Heaney’s experience the mood of regret helps us to understand the theme when the harsh realities of life affect Heaney’s childhood memories.

Towards the end of the poem we are made aware of how significant this memory is to Heaney. Heaney conveys an emotional reaction when the berries rot:“I always felt like crying” Heaney’s tone at this point sums up the importance of the blackberries as their new appearance affects Heaney emotionally. The word-choice of “always” suggests that this great excitement followed by disappointment is an annual thing for Heaney and his friends. Heaney develops his experience in such a way that the reader is able to identify the mood of disappointment leading to a better understanding of the theme, when Heaney realises that the reality of life can be cruel.

In the final line of the poem Heaney’s character conveys the significance of his childhood experience picking blackberries. He introduces an air of naivety along with a sense or maturity: “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.” Heaney uses a paradox here to highlight his sense of naivety as he continuously hopes for a miracle to make the berries last each year. However, he also conveys a level of maturity as he knows that the berries won’t keep. At this point in the poem we are able to recognise that many of the children will know that the berries won’t keep but they all quietly want to believe they could. Heaney’s disappointed tone in the final line of the poem is key in helping us to understand the theme of the harsh realities of life in contrast with Heaney’s childish hopes.

In conclusion, Heaney’s effective use of techniques such as word-choice, sentence structure, imagery, contrast and tone help to develop his childhood memory in which he goes blackberry picking. By developing this seemingly insignificant experience fully the reader is clearly able to understand the theme, Heaney’s childish hopes and dreams in contrast to the harsh realities of life. During the poem Heaney and his friend’s experience great excitement while picking the berries however this doesn’t last and transforms into disappointment and regret when the berries rot because of this the reader is compelled to feel sorry for Heaney and his friends.