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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom

Songs and Poems

Blackbery 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.

About Poet: Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was born April 13, 1939, at the family farmhouse in Northern Ireland. He was the first of nine children. His father, Patrick, was a farmer, but his real commitment was to cattle dealing. His mother had many family members who worked in the local linen mill. Heaney commented on the fact that his parentage thus contained both the Ireland of the cattle-herding Gaelic past and the Ulster of the Industrial Revolution.

  • crops - cuts off short
  • tremor - a trembling or shaking usually caused by weakness or disease
  1. What is going on in this poem?
  2. Is it set in past, present or future?
  3. What is the meter?
  4. What does he mean that "summer's blood was in it?" Summer's blood was in what?
  5. Explain this image: "Then red ones inked up..."
  6. Identify three more examples of imagery and explain them.
  7. What is the setting for the action in this poem. Find passages in the poem that set the scene.
  8. Why does the protaganist feel like crying? What isn't fair? Do you agree that it wasn't fair? Why or why not?
Some facts about blackberries
  • Blackberries are first green, then red, but they aren't sweet until they turn black.
  • Blackberries grow on brambles, a word meaning any impenetrable thicket. The thickets that grow in the wild have thorns which cause the "thorn pricks" mentioned in the poem.
  • byre — a cowshed
  • cache — something hidden or stored