Monday, August 9, 2010

Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney

Blackberry Bush
Photo by respres
Kevin and I spent yesterday afternoon picking blackberries. The berries were perfect. So ripe that sometimes you barely touched the branch and two or three berries would go tumbling to the ground. I got bramble scratches up my arms and a ping-pong-sized welt of a bug bite on my ankle, but it was SO worth it. Especially after I made the most delicious warm blackberry crisp ever (more on that on Friday).

In Poetry Writing for Kids this year, my students (third through fifth grade) were going to study Seamus Heaney's poem "Blackberry Picking," but I am always a bit overly ambitious. Instead of studying 25 poems in 5 afternoons, we only had time for about 20 (they did, after all, have their own writing to do). This one, sadly, is one of the ones I cut from the roster:

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 thickening 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 fermetted, 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.

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