Similarly, the fruit-picking calls to mind the biblical story from the Book of Genesis, that loss of paradise brought on when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree: they gained worldly knowledge, but in doing so lost their innocence.
But Heaney doesn’t choose to overstress this, any more than the fact that the berries – placed in a bath in a shed – are associated with the infant Jesus lying in his manger in the stable, that setting of a million nativity plays (and Jesus’ time on earth, of course, culminated in his self-sacrifice that was made necessary by Adam and Eve’s fruity temptation and subsequent Fall).
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.
It’s a rite of passage that we all go through, though it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when disillusionment begins to cloud our clear and sunny skies of hope.
The clichéd example is when we discover there’s no Santa Claus, but in ‘Blackberry-Picking’ the speaker’s realisation does not come all of a sudden: note how in the poem’s second stanza he says he ‘ I hoped they’d keep’.Most of them are instead off-rhymes or pararhymes at best: , and so on.As in Wilfred Owen’s war poems, the pararhyme suggests that something is not quite right, and rhyme seems too neat and glib a way of rendering such an unsettling and disillusioning experience. And this is because by now the speaker has come to terms with his disillusionment and can face it squarely in the face, especially now he’s a bit older.For more of Heaney’s classic early poetry, see our discussion of ‘Digging’ here.For more meaningful poetry about fruit, see our analysis of Blake’s poem about resentment and anger, ‘A Poison Tree’.The speaker recalls the sense of disappointment he and his fellow blackberry-pickers felt when they discovered that the berries had fermented and a fungus was growing on the fruit.He says that this made him sad, and he came to realise that this would always happen: soon after the berries had been picked, they would go rotten.But of course ‘Blackberry-Picking’ is not just about the literal experience of picking blackberries.The poem appeared in Seamus Heaney’s first volume of poems, , published in 1966, when Heaney was in his mid-twenties.These things are roughly at the back of our minds when we read Heaney’s poem, perhaps, but he does not insist that we understand or analyse ‘Blackberry-Picking’ in terms of such possible biblical resonances.The only explicit comparison made with other literature is to the notorious figure from French folk tales, Bluebeard, who had a habit of murdering his wives; the sticky deep red juice of the blackberries on the speaker’s hands is like the blood on Bluebeard’s hands.