Time, Place and Memory

Saw some early blackberries and was suddenly reminded of a favourite poem by Seamus Heaney. Thinking about memory and how something like a berry can be a reminder of this poem and how this poem reminds me of that first blackberry I tasted when I was seven.  “You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet”, such a powerful reminder.  The poem describes the longing to hold on to that, physically, by storing the berries and also emotionally, to hold on to the feeling of joy, satisfaction and sensuality. The endless summer days, the harvesting and the inevitable loss. There are strong themes of loss in the poem and yet still I enjoy  all that it stands for.  The time of blackberry picking is enfolded in my memory with this poem. It has its own place and recalls my own time.

I enjoy the rhythmical use of language and the contrast where ..”milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots” give a sharp onomatopoeic sound of the blackberries dropping into the metallic containers.


Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

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.


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