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Seamus Heaney Essay

September 3rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Blackberry-picking,” by Seamus Heaney, can be seen as a multi layered cake. There is the obvious physical attraction of a beautifully written poem as there is a grandly frosted cake, but once tasted, the poem can tell different stories as a cake can reveal different flavors. There is a literal reading of the poem, but the poem can also be read as a struggle between man and nature and the natural mental progression from childhood through adult hood.

Man possesses a preoccupation with opposing and fighting the world in which he lives. In spite of all the good that nature has done unto him, man possesses an inherent force, perhaps stemming from the Freudian id (the one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that is completely unconscious and is the source of psychic energy derived from instinctual needs and drives), which causes him to create conflict with the rest of the universe. (http://www.m-w.com) Throughout literature, humans have tried to oppose nature. Such epics as Beowulf and Gilgamesh contain heroes that fight against nature’s creation but suffer a tragic end and the hands of the universe. In “Blackberry-Picking,” Seamus Heaney grasps this theme of the eternal conflict between nature and man, and impresses this premise into an idea as simple as blackberry-picking. The author reverses the common structure of the words “Picking Blackberries” to “Blackberry-Picking.” This reversal may signify the importance of “Blackberries” from the singular form “Blackberry,” thereby leading the reader to infer that the poem transcends the denotation of picking blackberries. Also, the singular form of the title may serve to emphasize that Heaney focuses the poem on one single theme which pervades the entirety of the poem. Through the physical notion of the action of blackberry-picking, Seamus Heaney employs poetic devices ranging from imagery to metaphor; illuminating his universal theme of the eternal struggle of the force of man versus the force of nature.

The poem takes place in late August during a time of heavy rain and much sun. The speaker narrates the story of a person who marvels in blackberry picking and delves in this activity. The speaker then tells the experience of blackberry-picking which ranges from the “glossy purple clot” (3) to “red, green, hard as a knot” (4). The purple one tastes like wine with “summer’s blood,” which, essentially, is the fruit of summer’s toil. The glossy, purple, blackberry left stains upon the tongue. The speaker then set out with containers for the blackberries and began to collect them and store them in the barn. The dark, purple blackberries appeared like a “plate of eyes” (15). The speaker’s hands were sticky. After the barn was filled, a fungus began to cover the blackberry and the juice began to create a noisome odor. He tells how blackberries begin to ferment once they are taken off the bush. In spite of the fact that the speaker knows the blackberries will rot once picked, he continues to do so year after year. A discussion of the connotation of the various phrases throughout the poem will allow for an exploration of the theme of man versus nature.

Heaney’s continuous use of imagery in describing the blackberry as a “glossy purple clot” (3) embeds an image in the readers mind which, in turn, causes the reader to continually recur this image when reading about the rotting berries. This image of the fruit serves to illustrate the drastic change that the blackberry undergoes after being picked off of the bush. The metaphor of “summer’s blood” accentuates the description of the “sweet flesh.” The author uses the metaphor of “summer’s blood” to describe the work put in by nature during the summer into the creation of the blackberries. The idea that “hunger set [the speaker] out with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots” attributes to hunger the quality of persuasiveness, which, in turn, further intensifies the power of nature in the poem. These words also create a cacophonous sense in the poem which leads help elucidate the theme of man’s perpetual taking from nature. Heaney’s allusion to Bluebeard, a character who murder’s his wives, elucidates the blackberry picker’s metaphorical murder of nature through the act of picking blackberries from their bushes. Heaney’s attitude throughout the poem underlies the connotation and the meaning of the theme.

Seamus Heaney’s attitude toward blackberry-picking appears docile at the beginning of the novel through the beautiful words of “glossy purple clot” and “flesh was sweet” in describing the fruit. This attitude goes hand in hand with the theme of the poem, the force of nature versus the force of man, because, originally, man possesses a friendly attitude toward nature but after corruption reverts to a primitive state of glutton and avarice. The attitude at the end of the poem, however, turns to one of disgust with the figurative language of “stinking” (20) juice, “glutting on cache” (19), and the now “sour” (21) flesh. The speaker’s “crying” reveals to the reader the depressed attitude due to the loss of the collected blackberries. The tone shifts at the second stanza from the delighted mood of the speaker which results from blackberry-picking to the depressed mood that results from the waste of the blackberries due to stagnation.

The theme that pervades the poem consists of the eternal conflict between the force of man and the force of nature. Man, represented in the poem as the speaker, battles the nature through the dreadful act of picking the fruit of nature’s toil. The often used theme of man raping nature of all purity surfaces through the blackberry-picking. Furthermore, Heaney’s apt use of imagery contributes to the strengthening of the powerful them of man versus nature through the words that point out man’s wrongdoings and nature’s suffering. After an analysis of the play, the word “Blackberry” in the title represents the entirety of nature throughout the universal. The hyphen separating the two words of the title emphasizes the “blackberry,” the nature, and “picking,” the state of man’s antagonism against nature which manifests through a physical destruction. The title no longer evokes a superficial sense of emotion from the reader but, rather, draws out a feeling of mercy to nature as a result of man’s misdeeds. Heaney creates a poem which blends the idea of blackberry-picking with the eternal conflict between man and nature through figurative language and metaphor.
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