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.
© Seamus Heaney
If you'd like to see a video of Seamus Heaney reading the poem please click on this link.
The blackberries are ripe here at the moment, just as the northern skies begin to take a silvery tint and the leaves curl at the edges. There's the nip of autumn in the air, though it's hot enough in the afternoons. I've been out with my stick, pulling the hedgerows down, spiking my fingers on the brambles, making sure I leave some for the birds and some for others. I'm covered in scratches, but they taste so good boiled up with apples and sugar! Seamus Heaney's poem is about desire and hope and disappointment as much as blackberries; a remembered childhood idyll that had a 'rat-grey fungus' over it. I love the images - if you look down into the can you're picking into, it really does look like 'a plate of eyes'. Favourite lines? 'summer's blood was in it/Leaving stains on the tongue' and 'our palms sticky as Bluebeard's'.
Blackberry and apple crumble anyone?
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