Once the reader can passes up the surface meaning of the poem Blackberry-Picking, by , past the emotional switch from sheer joy to utter disappointment, past the childhood memories, the underlying meaning can be quite disturbing. Hidden deep within the happy-go-lucky rifts of childhood is a disturbing tale of greed and murder. Seamus Heaney, through clever diction, ghastly imagery, misguided metaphors and abruptly changing forms, ingeniously tells the tale that is understood and rarely spoken aloud. Seamus Heaney refers to Bluebeard at the end of stanza one.
Bluebeard, according to the footnote, is a character in a fairy tale who murders his wives. Why on earth would there be a reference to a murderous pirate in a poem about blackberries? The exact metaphor is “Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s,” (lines 15-16). Heaney is comparing the sticky blackberry juice on their hands to the blood shed on Bluebeard’s hands, from his wives. This comparison makes the first reference to murder in the poem, rather the most obvious one. Picking blackberries is being paralleled to greed and murder by Heaney, in this poem. Murdering the blackberries is an interesting thought.
Once picked off the bush out of greed, wanting the blackberries for yourself, the blackberries will only rot away, no longer able to sustain their lives. This murderous act is committed in the innocence of the speaker’s childhood. The sudden change of form and emotional shift highlight his unhappiness at the realization of this, unconsciously. Realizing unconsciously seems like an oxymoron, but the speaker does not consciously realize the horrors of his actions, while deep down understands what he has done. The speaker’s extreme joy from hording all the delicious blackberries turns into horror upon witnessing their fermentation (2 nd stanza). The speaker realizes that all good things must come to an end.
He knows that, out of his greed, he has murdered these blackberries, made then ferment and caused them to loose their succulent appeal. At first glance this poem seems a happy tale of childhood. These are memories that make the heart smile. Images of heavy summer storms full of rain, alternating with bright, joyous sunshine, full bushels of blackberries waiting to be picked; these are images most can relate with. The reader can taste the bitter-sweetness of the summer’s first blackberry, feel the scratch of briars against their own skin, sense the excitement and butterflies in their own stomachs as they race to gather all the wondrous blackberries they can, followed by the anger and the disappointment when the blackberries rot and ferment before the readers’ eyes. However, if the reader were to take the diction and imagery quite literally, a somewhat different picture is aroused.
.”.. a glossy purple clot… .” (line 3) describing the first ripened blackberry, brings to mind the picture of a nasty blood clot in someone’s veins, why would Heaney compare blackberries to blood clots? .”.. red, green, hard as a knot,” (line 4) used to portray the unripened blackberries, raises the image of a bloody bruise. Why would Heaney compare the unripened blackberries to bruises? “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.” (lines 5-8) brings around the thought of cannibalism surfaces.
Why would such a reference be included in a poem about blackberries? .”.. and on top big dark blobs burned Like a plate of eyes,” (lines 14-15) these words help the readers to envision a jar of eyeballs staring back at themselves. By describing the blackberries’ “sweet flesh” (line 21) as having the “fur” (line 18), the “rat-grey fungus” (line 19), “stinking juice” (line 20), these things lead the reader to see a horrible decaying mess, Heaney secretly brings the reader to see a corroded body, of some pore unfortunate being, left to rot, no longer loved. Why on earth would Heaney try to arouse such a ghastly picture in the readers’ minds? The lesson of greed is being taught in the underlying of this poem. The speaker of the poem is greedy, wanting all the blackberries, ripe or unripe, for himself. He wanted to stash them away and keep them all to himself, but he quickly learns that is not possible.
Greed is not a virtue that one would want to master. By being greedy, the speaker witnesses his hoard of blackberries, the delicious, perfect blackberries mold and ferment, turning into a sloping mess. He murders the blackberries, in a sense. Heaney is trying to warn the readers of the dangers that come along with greed, and warn them that bad things will happen in return. The innocent child in Seamus Heaney’s poem knows not of the greedy and murderous actions, only of the joy and eagerness he feels at the thought of all those blackberries being his own. He is a victim of greed.
He only wanted the delight all for himself, unknowing of what he would soon cause. This relates to life for many people. Greed is a bad thing, and it always turns out badly, whether you realize it at your greedy height or not. The effects come crashing down quickly, as did the fermentation of the blackberries. The sudden shift represents the sudden realization of the speaker’s consequences. The surface meaning of this poem is a happy memory with a lot of people and it is easy to relate to, as is the underlying meaning whether most realize this or not.
Relating to life, this poem is about accepting the consequences of your actions. Seamus Heaney takes an aspect of life that is thought of as filled with happy memories and reveals the shocking horrors behind it, which simply goes to show the reader that things are not always what they seem.