How are we supposed to understand the subject of death in blackberry harvesting and blackberry eating poems? Many scholars have discussed the subject of death; others have used their own particular accounts to symbolize human demise or deterioration of social norms. Human societies, practices, and characters are still inclined to improve their standing and living standards in the future, but human beings recognize that mortality is imminent and that one of the most uncertain aspects of human existence is time for them to die. This article would discuss the aspect of optimism in human life and the question of death. Blackberry picking and blackberry eating poems
I will use the poem blackberry picking by Seamus Heaney comparatively to Galway Kinnell’s blackberry eating to provide insight on the objective of this essay. These two authors used language personification to explore the theme of mortality and the human hypothetical hope of long life. Kinnell and Heaney present two mystic poems that expose death as eventual and a consequential event that result from the dark part of human life.
Heaney wrote the blackberry-picking poem in 1966 in his poem collection volume Death of a Naturalist, to emphasize the theme of growing up. Kinnell wrote blackberry eating in 1980 to create a metaphoric view between humans and blackberries. In the two poems, the speaker’s main quest is to pick the ripe berries. However, this quest is consequential to the mortal berries.
In both poems, blackberries are used as an allegory for words and languages. The two authors also personify the blackberries. In blackberry eating, Kinnell writes, “a penalty / they earn for knowing the black art” (line 4-5). On the contrary, however, we, of course, know that blackberries cannot earn anything.
Mortality literally means the state of being able to die. The human body, coupled with diseases, accidents and human hatred, human life ends at some point. Heaney in his blackberry picking explains a traditional poetic idea that death is eventual death to all human kind. The rotting berries describe a timely decay in the human life and a desire to keep the berries fresh shows how individuals cling to the hope of prolonged life. He introduces the speaker’s inspirational mystery beyond icy blackened berries. This seemed to be the berries source of destruction. “At first, just one, a glossy purple clot / among other, red, green, hard as a knot / you ate that first one and its flesh was sweet” (3-4). Here, Heaney acknowledges that everything with a beginning has an end.
Only mortals die, therefore the humanity idea is necessary for the theme to be realistic. The two poems employ symbolism to further explore the main theme, Heaney (6) “Like thickened wine: Summer’s blood was in it” the berry juice is replaced by blood, showing the mortal human state. “With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned / like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered” (line 14-15). Roger McGough, in his poem, Let me die a young man writes, “Let me die a young man’s death not a clean & in-between the sheets holy water death,” (line 1).
The hope of long life
The hope and desire to stay alive are every human’s, humans work and place their needs forward with an anticipation of another day. Acknowledgement of death is an aspect of the society. However, some activities or artistry may be perceived as negative aspects of life, this is consequential according to Kinnell “The stalks very prickly, a penalty / they earn from knowing the black art” (4-5). Heaney also explores the desire by humans to keep alive and young regardless of the knowledge of death, he quotes, “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not” (line 24). “That’s cowardly; can’t you let a man die as comfortably as he can without calling him names? What’s the use of clanging me? You’re not going to die” (Hemingway 2).
Holland in his book, Death is nothing at all, writes, “Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow” (10). He emphasizes the need for continuity irrespective of the fear of death.
Human nature and character associated with death
Death is associated with old age, illness or accidents, “Lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries / Fall almost unbidden to my tongue,” (Heaney 7-8). This exposes uncertain death at old age. The berries that have lasted longer are the ones that rot. Kinnell’s speaker goes out during September to pick the blackberries for breakfast, while Heaney’s goes out during August to pick the Blackberries. This time aspect is very important in the human life. Mortals have a time to live and a time to die.
Humans can be their own source of death; killing and suspicion are part of human life. In Blackberry picking, Heaney exposes an aspect of the speaker as sticky like bluebeards (Line 16). This can imply that he is suspicious and seems to have done something; maybe he knows the cause of his wife’s death. Heaney exposes the stains in the speaker’s hands, the blueberries blood. The imagery relates to human’s nature of being suspicious after doing something.
Atkinson in her book life after life explain how humans can cause death, she quotes, “picking up Ursula and tossing her casually in the air, only stopping when she started to choke on a sugar lump” (6.48). In this book, Ursula narrowly escapes death by ice cubes. Death here is exposed as sometimes escaped.
Blackberry picking and blackberry eating poems’ purpose is accepting all that is beautiful, wonderful, fresh and bountiful in life and relishing it with liveliness. In blackberry picking, Heaney writes,” We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre” (17).
Kinnell’s blackberry eating speaks of a speaker with a character of going out to pick berries for breakfast in the mornings of September. He wrote, “I love to go out in late September /among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries / to eat blackberries for breakfast,” (1-3).The eventual death of the ripe berries implies mortality of humans. The idea of the eventual end of the ripe berries implies human mortal state. Heaney emphasizes on the concern of rotting berries. He wishes they would last longer by picking as many blackberries as possible. He also has a greater concern for the rotting berries and the desire to make them last longer. He is concerned with how people cling to the hope of living longer. The two authors successfully explore and develop their ideas and points and place them in a way to meet their poetic idea of human mortality.
Though blackberry eating and blackberry picking poems are often seen as poems that encourage us to embrace the wonder and beauty of life, they may also be seen as telling us that sometimes the things we treasure fade away and stop appearing as beautiful as they first appeared. In black berry picking, Heaney wrote, “That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot. Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not” (23-24). Sometimes life gives us bad experiences and memories.
Atkinson, Kate. Life After Life: A Novel. Hachette UK, 2013. Retrieved from http://coolschool-spb.ru/upload/Life_After_Life.pdf on 29th March 2017
Heaney, Seamus. “Blackberry Picking.” Death of a Naturalist (1966): 20. Retrieved from www.foreverlove.webege.com/northernireland/schools/11_16/poetry/pdf/pr_allnotes.pdf on 13th March 2017
Hemingway, Ernest. The snows of Kilimanjaro and other stories. Simon and Schuster, 1995. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.ke/books?hl=en&lr=&id=QjgiXnMHHtIC&oi=fnd&pg=PA3&dq=The+Snows+of+Kilimanjaro+by++Ernest+Hemingway&ots=1q2Q2tzRJ&sig=tdkdUP8tj0IiSp0fEvuGCgFCx8&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=The%20Snows%20of%20Kilimanjaro%20by%20%20Ernest%20Hemingway&f=false
Holland, Henry Scott. Death is nothing at all. Souvenir, 1987. Retrieved from http://sacredbrooklyn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ChiChi-MemorialProgram_hmv5.pdf
Kinnell, Galway, and Christine Bertelson. Blackberry Eating. WB Ewert, publisher, 1980. Retrieved from https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinichol/222/BlackberryPoems.docx on 14th March 2017
McGough, Roger. “Let me die a youngman’s death.” International Journal of Epidemiology 31.4 (2002): 798-798. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/31/4/798/630263/Let-me-die-a-youngman-s-death