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.
From Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist (1966)
Anyone who knows me knows Heaney is my all time favourite poet and a fellow Norn Irish human. His death in 2013 devastated me. His death was a great loss to the literary community. If you ever get your hands on his translation of ‘Beowulf‘ I highly recommend reading it. All of his work, in my opinion, is amazing but I recommend ‘Open Ground‘. I studied it for my A Levels and is most likely my most ‘loved’ book…poor thing is battered and bent but never replaced and has my original notes. I find as I get older my interpretation of the poems has changed or gone deeper and I do add these to the notes…hmmm wonder if the poems will be visible when I hit 50?!
Poems, like this one, are part of the reason I changed my degree from English Literature to Classical Studies. I hated dissecting poems. Some yeah it is obvious there is a deeper meaning but then there are poems, like this one, where you are saying some times its just a poem about what its about and there is no hidden meaning. Let me know your interpretation in the comments!