A poem for August by Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney

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 on 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 wouldn’t.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) was an Irish poet and is considered the greatest Irish poet of the latter half of the 20th century. He was awarded several prestigious literary prizes to support this claim, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. His profound insights into everyday places and happenings — especially those found in the natural world, a prevalent setting for many of Heaney’s poems — are underscored by a keen eye for detail and an equally keen ear for the harmony of words. Heaney also sought to address — or “redress” (as he said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech — the sectarian violence in his homeland by rising above the political polemics to instead see “The Troubles” through the lens of the poetic imagination, thereby achieving a greater human and historical context by which to understand his country’s plight.

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