Sunday, August 1, 2010

Blackberry Picking

When berries arrive, you know that summer is in full swing. We went blackberry picking this weekend, amazed at the prospect of free food growing wild along the streets of our hometown.

After a half hour or so of foraging, we fully understood why berries command such a steep price at the grocery store. Thorns had scraped and poked our fingers, arms and legs; territorial ants had protested our thievery; and juices from the berries had leaked all over our hands, staining them the color of blood. Berry picking was free, but it wasn't easy.

The experience reminded me of a poem I studied in high school Literature class- "Blackberry Piking" by renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I thought I would share it with you. To me, it evokes quintessential summer memories of childhood, as well as bittersweet sadness at the transitory nature of youth and innocence.

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. Blackberries and Irish poets, you get extra points for that:)

  2. I knew you would love this post if only because I gave a shout out to the Irish!


Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!