When I was in 6th class (1974/5) we read this poem in school. Then the teacher had us all write a poem about blackberries.
I dived in head first. This poem is my childhood. My family always did hit the bushes every September to harvest natures bounty. I still do it, but now with my own children in the hedgerows around Dualla in Co. Tipperary.
Afterwards we make gooey blackberry and apple tarts, blackberry sponges and fresh yoghurt smoothies.
Back in 6th class I wrote my own poem and was immensely proud of it. A year later in First Year at secondary school we were asked to submit a poem for the school poetry competition. I hauled out my blackberry picking poem and won first prize.
The judge of our competition was none other than Dermot Bolger, another famous Irish Writer.
So I can claim to have taken inspiration from a Nobel Laureate to create a poem that won a prize judged by another great writer.
Sadly, I can’t find my own poem. But I found the inspiration, thanks Seamus. You passed away yesterday after a short illness. We will miss you. Rest in Peace.
Blackberry Picking; by Seamus Heaney
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.