"Blackberry-Picking" was written by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney and first published in 1966, in the collection Death of a Naturalist. The poem depicts a seemingly innocent childhood memory of picking blackberries in August. Written from an adult's point of view, the poem uses this experience of picking blackberries and watching them spoil as an extended metaphor for the painful process of growing up and losing childhood innocence.
Late August, given ...
... as a knot.
You ate that ...
Then red ones ...
... bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields ...
... plate of eyes.
Our hands were ...
... sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the ...
... would turn sour.
I always felt ...
... they would not.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
An Introduction to Holy Communion — "Blackberry-Picking" includes religious symbolism referencing the Christian tradition of Holy Communion. Learn about the history and significance of Holy Communion, also called the Eucharist or Lord's Supper.
Seamus Heaney's 1995 Nobel Lecture — The author of "Blackberry-Picking" won the Nobel Prize in 1995. Read his speech upon the occasion, in which he references influences like John Keats.
Obituary: Seamus Heaney — Read about the life of the poem's author.
History of The Troubles in Ireland — Although "Blackberry-Picking" does not explicitly address the Troubles, these events were ongoing throughout Seamus Heaney's career. Other writings of his do speak to these events. Learn about the history.
The Folktale of Bluebeard — "Blackberry-Picking" makes an allusion to Bluebeard, a folktale about a man who kills his wives one after the other. Read the tale.
An Introduction to the Belfast Group — Learn more about The Belfast Group, which informed a new generation of writers in Northern Ireland, including Seamus Heaney.
for Philip Hobsbaum
1Late August, given heavy rain and sun
2For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
3At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
4Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
5You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
6Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
7Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
8Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
9Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
10Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
11Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
12We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
13Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
14With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
15Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
16With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
17We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
18But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
19A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
20The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
21The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
22I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
23That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
24Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.