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How do we understand the death motif in the poems Blackberry Picking and Blackberry Eating? Many scholars have written about death; others have used their personal experiences to reflect societal human demise or deterioration of societal norms. Human societies, practices, and identities are still oriented toward the improvement of their status and living conditions in the future. People recognize, though, that death is unavoidable and that one of the most mysterious facets of a person's existence is the moment in which he or she will pass. This essay would explore the theme of death as well as the element of optimism in human life. I will use the poem Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney comparatively to Galway Kinnell’s Blackberry Eating to provide insight on the objective of the essay. These two authors used the language of personification to explore the theme of mortality and the possible human hope of long life. Kinnell and Heaney present two mystic poems that expose death as a significant event that result from the dark part of human life.
Mortality means the state of being able to die. The human body, coupled with diseases, accidents, and personal hatred, human life ends at some point. Heaney in his Blackberry Picking explains a traditional poetic idea that death is compulsory to all human beings. The rotting berries describe a timely decay in the human life. Normally, the life has a time length; every person eventually dies either from natural causes or another. Only mortals die, therefore, the humanity idea is necessary for the theme to be realistic. The two poems employ symbolism to explore death further. Heaney states: “Like thickened wine: Summer's blood was in it,” showing the mortal human state (6). Mortality is associated with blood because without it, an individual is considered dead. 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,” (1). Mortality has a timeline, death is associated with age, and some people die at an old age while the others end their lives young. Death at old age sometime is considered unpleasant, as one will suffer too much because of body weakening. However, many individuals want to live longer regardless of the sufferings of old age.
Acknowledgment of death is an aspect of the society. However, some activities or artistry may be perceived as negative aspects of life, and it is consequential according to Kinnell. Human conflict is part of life which sometimes can lead to death. What humans do for a living will show the type of life they exist. Some individuals engage in activities considered wrong in the society they live in, and it shows their dark part of life.
The desire to stay alive is every human’s hope. People work and place his or her needs forward with an anticipation of another day. Heaney quotes: “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not” (24). Human beings are aware that there is an end to all mortals. They acknowledge the biblical curse placed on them, and they live with it. However, the individuals always live with an expectation of seeing tomorrow. They undertake activities aimed at supporting the very uncertain future. Hope does not prevent people from accepting death when it comes, “That's cowardly; can't you let a man die as comfortably as he can without calling him names?/ What is the use of clanging me?/ You're not going to die” (Hemingway 2). Humans always accept death and move on with their everyday hope of longer life. Holland writes, “Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow” (10).
A person can be the source of death; killing and suspicion are part of human life. Heaney exposes an aspect of the speaker as sticky like in Bluebeards (16). It can imply that he is suspicious and seems to have done something; maybe he knows the cause of his wife’s death. Humans are not ordinary beings, with the knowledge of the mortal human state; people can cause sudden death of each other. Atkinson quotes: “picking up Ursula and tossing her casually in the air, only stopping when she started to choke on a sugar lump” (6.48). An individual has different behaviors; some actions can lead to the death which is caused by hunger, rage, and irresponsibility. However, a person can sometimes escape from death. Moreover, it does not show that they are immortal. When their time reaches, they would finally die.
In conclusion, Blackberry Picking and Blackberry Eating poems’ purpose is accepting all that is beautiful, wonderful, fresh, and bountiful in life. As a result, Heaney writes: ” We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre” (17).
The idea of the eventual end of the ripe berries implies mortal human state. Heaney emphasizes on the concern of rotting berries. The speaker 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. 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 Picking and Blackberry Eating poems’ are often seen as songs that encourage us to embrace the wonder and beauty of life, they may also be seen as mediums for telling us the things we treasure. In Blackberry 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. Mortality is the nature of human life, and everybody has to accept him amid the unwavering hope of long life.
With the acknowledgment of death, the steadfast faith in mortals for a longer life has made scientists make some experiments on life. They have come up with findings to support the possibility of extending human life. By creating vaccines, they have been able to reduce infant mortality by almost three quarters. Infant mortality is considered as the largest factor of death. Using science, the average human lifespan can be increased argued scientist. All the research is aimed at advancing the hope for a longer life to the mortals.
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. Accessed 10 March 2017.
Heaney, Seamus. "Blackberry Picking." The Death of a Naturalist (1966): 20. Retrieved from www.foreverlove.webege.com/northernireland/schools/11_16/poetry/pdf/pr_allnotes.pdf. Accessed 13 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. Accessed 10 March 2017.
Holland, Henry Scott. Death is Nothing at all. Souvenir, 1987. Retrieved from http://sacredbrooklyn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ChiChi-MemorialProgram_hmv5.pdf. Accessed 13 March 2017.
Kinnell, Galway, and Christine Bertelson. Blackberry Eating. New York: WB Ewert, Publisher, 1980. Retrieved from https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~cinichol/222/BlackberryPoems.docx on 14th March 2017. Accessed 12 March 2017.
McGough, Roger. "Let Me Die a Young Man’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. Accessed 13 March 2017
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