Blackberry picking


This post is a tribute to the late Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, playwright, translator, lecturer and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, who died this morning after a short illness. May he rest in peace. Described as ‘the greatest Irish poet since Yeats’, Seamus Heaney is a great loss to the world. I had started to write a post earlier today about Sherkin Island’s bramble blossom and blackberries, with the intention of including Heaney’s beautiful poem, ‘Blackberry-Picking’, when I heard the news on the radio so I’ll say no more now and leave you with his evocative poem.


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
13th April 1939 – 30th August 2013