30 August 2010


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.


  1. Life is pretty much the same way, isn't it? You just learn to make wine. And plant blueberries instead.

  2. That is just a lovely poem. Full of life's lessons. Joy and anticipation, hard work and rest, nature and nurture, happiness and sadness. Just lovely!

  3. Yes, one of my favourites. I had to delete your comment on my blog, by the way, YP - you'll know why.

  4. Blackberries or brambles, doesn't matter, all delicious. We also collected and ate many during our summer break in Yorkshire - thanks for your weather advice, by the way, it was, as you said, "variable" (i.e. like winter anywhere else in the world).
    We also went "bilberrying" up on the moors, a beautiful day, the colours of the heather, the silence only broken by grouse being blasted at.

  5. Elizabeth11:41 pm

    Quietly acknowledged...

  6. JAN BLAWAT Even blueberries rot.
    MOUNTAIN THYME Over here in the UK most literate people are aware of this poem. I'm so glad it meant something to you too.
    DAPHNE I hope your outfit looked more becoming than that one.
    BRIAN I was waiting for you in the pub with a foaming pint. Shame you were frolickig on the high moors in search of bilberries. Why not write a poem? "Bilberry Picking"? Eat your heart out Mr Heaney!
    ELIZABETH You will certainly know, like Mountain Thyme, that in some ways the poem has absolutely nothing to do with picking blackberries.

  7. Thanks. Hmmm, a Yorkshireman offering a free drink - I'll fly back tomorrow ...

  8. Hi YP - thanks for visitn my site - its nice to meet another from the shire! I love the Heaney poem - and the pics on the previous post - youve inspired me to get brambling!

  9. Elizabeth2:34 pm

    All too sadly I do...and deeply regret that the fruit couldn't be preserved before it went bad.


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