A Comparative Analysis of Blackberry Eating and Blackberry Picking

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To highlight the theme of death, a wide variety of literal texts have been written; some authors have used personal accounts of bereavement or imminent death to symbolize, for example, social decline. Seamus Heaney and Galway Kinnell also wrote literal poetry about blackberries, blackberry picking, and blackberry feeding. Using language personification, these two writers symbolically discuss the subject of death. For my term paper, I would use Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking” and Galway Kinnell’s poem “Blackberry Chewing.” This term paper begins with the introduction part, then themes, speaker and setting, tone, imagery, symbols, the quest for long life and conclusion parts follow. This paper explores the literary poems of Kinnell and Heaney in greater depth to come up with a resourceful argument on the particular theme of mortality.

In blackberry picking poem, Heaney relatively explores a traditional poetic idea of eventual death by every individual. He uses rotting berries to describe the timely decay of human life and the speaker’s desire to keep the berries from rotting. This shows how people hope and cling on continuity of life even though they understand eventual death as a nature fact. It is realistic that everyone wants it to last longer than normal, the blackberries are not permanent and that makes them precious. Individuals want the most of their lives.

Speaker and Setting

Galway Kinnell’s blackberry eating presents a creative evidence process of life aspects. First, he presents the darkness aspect of life as positive in a way. The darkness of blackberries that exists widely in Kinnell’s poem represents the preconscious source of mystery. Kinnell sees mortality differently compared to Heaney. He presents the speaker with an inspirational form of mystery that lies beyond the icy ripe blackened berries. He features this as a source of destruction. Kinnell views mortality as a consequence of the positive dark aspect of life.

Heaney states, “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). He asserts that in mortality, what has a beginning has an end. He starts with the life of the berry creating a hint that the berry will finally die. ”Like thickened wine: Summer’s blood was in it” (6), he uses blood instead of berry juice, this shows the human nature of mortality. This makes the symbolism looks more human. Heaney makes the poem more human to emphasize on the theme of mortality again, ”With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned / Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered” (14-15). Relating the rotten berries to human fate makes this more realistic. The human desire to keep being alive and young regardless of the fact that people must die, Heaney quotes, ”Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not” (line 24).

Kinnell also states and makes some implications that relate and asserts the theme of mortality. Kinnell concludes, ”The stalks very prickly, a penalty / They earn from knowing the black art” (4-5). He introduces artistry which is a human nature and explores its effect on mortality. Prickly stalks as a consequence of the black art implying the unknown outcome of the dark aspect of life. Kinnell writes ”Lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries / Fall almost unbidden to my tongue,” (7-8). This portrays the old age uncertain death of humans. The ripest berries are those that have lasted longer and can rot.

The speaker in blackberry picking is a man who is looking back to his youthful days, he recalls a memory in the past and the feeling he had at that time. He nostalgically looks back into the past without judgment and still acknowledges the virtual hope and disappointment of a growing young man. Kinnell’s speaker, however, is a young boy, with the joy of black ripe berries in the morning as breakfast. Blackberry’s setting is idealized in a fall mornings description which pictures a rural life. The ideological setting creates a series of a phenomenon that helps the speaker develop themes. Heaney’s blackberry picking, on the other hand, is set in a rural place outdoors, the speaker remembers waking early and moving across blackberry peaches, hayfields, and cornfields. The cowshed also appears as the place where the speaker uses to store the berries.

Kinnell introduces a speaker who loves to go out in late September to pick and eat ripe berries for breakfast, he introduces picking the blackberries at a specific season. September is the month the speaker goes to pick blackberries, this suggests that it is the time when the berries are ripe to be harvested. The speaker picks the blackberries for breakfast, the unexpected picking and eating of the berries show the eventual death of humans. Heaney speaker’s harvest time is August, the blackberries ripen and are ready for harvesting, this time notation when linked to human mortality shows the timely end of human life.

Tone, Imagery, and Symbols

In the poem blackberry picking, the speaker uses language to describe his tone. At first, he uses a sensuous to bring out the enthusiasm of blackberry picking. He uses colors ”sweet like thickened wine”. The image of the tinkling bottom of the cans creates a sense of enjoyment. The speaker, however, comes to an expectation of disappointment as he uses a rather violent imagery like ”blood”. The contrasting change of the imageries used by the speaker shows a change in the speaker’s tone. In a human notation, the change in tone implies the knowledge of disappointment. The speaker finds fur, rat-grey fungus and describes the how the juice is stinking, whatever enthusiasm he had at the beginning of the poem is now turning sour. This shows that the enjoyment that humans enjoy while still alive would come to a bitter end.

In blackberry eating by Kinnell, the speaker starts by his fondness to go out to eat berries, the berries image is clearly brought out. Blackberry eating is depicted as a metaphorical poem describing the excitement and enjoyment of going out to pick and eat berries.

In line 16 of blackberry picking, Heaney describes an aspect of the boy as sticky like bluebeards. This presumably implies that the speaker is suspicious of doing something, perhaps he knows the cause of his wife’s death. According to Heaney, the speaker’s hands are stained with blueberries’ blood. This ideological imagery relates well to humankind nature of suspicion, the essence of bringing to an end something meant expected.

Kinnell and Heaney in their poems try to bring to light the old poetic idea of mortality in different ways. Heaney relatively points that humans are eventually going to die, he uses the rotting berries and the boys desire to make them last longer. This relates closely to the human desire to live longer. It suggests that individuals live in the hope extra days in future even though they know that they will once die. It can also be noted that Heaney idea of embracing a beautiful life full of freshness and wonderful enjoyments just as one tastes the freshness of blackberry. However, this enjoyment comes to an end when the speaker in an eventual tone, talks of the rotting berries. This emphasizes the main poetic idea of mortality. Kinnell, on the other hand, uses an imagery of the speaker’s enjoyment going out every September to eat berries for breakfast, he explores the feeling of eating the blackberries.

The quest for longer life

Kinnell introduces the speaker as picking the darkest blackened berries which he seemingly enjoys eating. He doesn’t take the unripe ones, this implies that the author is optimistic that the others will ripe too. This suggests humans hope of long life even though an end is permitted. Heaney relatively outsights the human nature of clinging onto the hope of long life, the speaker in Heaney blackberry seems disappointed by the rotting berries and wish they would last longer. Heaney and Kinnell in their poems explain the human nature of hope and optimism of life, however, aware of the universal knowledge of death.


The two poems by Kinnell and Heaney tackle widely the theme of mortality. Kinnell’s Blackberry eating speaks of a boy with a character of going out during September to eat berries for breakfast. The idea of the eventual end of the ripe berries implies human mortal state. Heaney in his Blackberry picking poem, on the other hand, emphasizes on picking as many blackberries as possible. He also has a greater concern for the rotting berries and the desire to make them last longer. This shows that Heaney is concerned with the hope that every individual has, the hope that people cling on, the hope to live long. The two authors are successful in developing their points to meet the poetic idea of human mortality. By now, I believe that we are finally able to demonstrate the theme of mortality in the two poems.

Works Cited

Heaney, Heaney. ”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

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

January 18, 2023

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