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By Seamus Heaney

for Philip Hobsbaum

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, "Blackberry Picking" from Opened Ground: Selected poems 1966-1996. Copyright © 1999 by Seamus Heaney. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC,  http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved. 
 
Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Death of a Naturalist (1966)

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Poet Bio

Seamus Heaney
Born on a farm in Northern Ireland, Seamus Heaney received a scholarship and left his family at age 12. A widely-read and accessible poet, Heaney’s subject matter often remains with his roots—rural life in Ireland. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and was formerly named the prestigious Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard. See More By This Poet

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