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Monday Moan: This Year’s Blackberry Harvest

Monday, August 20, 2012 @ 06:08 PM

It’s usually about this time that I get either completely out of London or to one of my favourite spots in town, to pick blackberries. I’m not telling you where, as it is a secret that I don’t want to get out. The more lush, juicy berries I can get for myself the better!

Off I went yesterday morning to the unrevealed location full of expectation, where there are often plenty of ripe berries at this time, only to have my hopes entirely dashed.

Unripe Blackberries

They’re nowhere near ripe

As anyone who picks them will know, disappointment comes usually in the form of discovering that someone has got there before you, but on this occasion the let down was delivered in a different way….

They’re not ripe. Nowhere near it, might not even make it before the first frosts. Feeling quite impatient, I’m sharing this wondrous poem by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. It maybe explains why, even now I am in my thirties and live an urban life, that I keep setting off with such eagerness in search of the little black jewels, at the same time every year.

Blackberry Picking

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.

Seamus Heaney (1939- )

 

 

 

Blackberry Picking

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.

Seamus Heaney (1939- )
An Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer born at Mossbawn farmhouse between Castledawson and Toomebridge and now living in Dublin.  Heaney was Professor of Poetry at both Harvard and Oxford Universities and has been awarded numerous awards for his work including the Nobel Prize for Literature.  His personal papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.  He has been called ”the most important Irish poet since Yeats” and also “the greatest poet of our age”.

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