Skip to Content

Irish Poem: Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney(Including Video)

Share this 🍀😍

Another week another top Irish poem. The Irish poem Blackberry-Picking comes in at number 47 on the list of top 100 Irish poems
I think, so far, this is the first Irish poem that I actually managed to find a video of the author reading the poem himself. I have included the video before the poem. Great to hear Heaney reading the poem. Another fantastic use of imagery. I can almost taste the blackberry. 
I also share a new Irish poem every week on my weekly dose of Irish straight to your inbox. You can subscribe here. 
This Irish poem also features on my top Seamus Heaney poems list.

Who is Seamus Heaney? 

Seamus Justin Heaney (13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013) was an Irish poet, playwright and translator.
He received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. Among his best-known works is Death of a Naturalist (1966), his first major published volume.
Heaney was and is still recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry in Ireland during his lifetime.
American poet Robert Lowell described him as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats“, and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he was “the greatest poet of our age.” 

What is the poem Blackberry-Picking all about? 

“Blackberry-Picking” by Seamus Heaney is a poem about the excitement and pleasure of picking ripe blackberries, which serves as a metaphor for desire and fulfilment. However, it also explores the inevitability of disappointment as the berries eventually rot and decay, symbolizing the passage of time and the transient nature of pleasure and life.

In the poem, the speaker recounts the annual ritual of blackberry picking, a childhood activity full of excitement and anticipation. The ripe blackberries are seen as a symbol of desire and pleasure. The speaker describes how they would eagerly pick the berries, and their hands would be stained with the juice of the fruit. This vivid description creates a sense of sensory pleasure and nostalgia.

Blackberry-Picking video, by Seamus Heaney

Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney

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.

Share this 🍀😍