Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seamus Heaney wins Irish Times award

The award of the Irish Times' Poetry Now prize to Seamus Heaney led me to catch up some of the work of one of the few great poets who are still living.

I was familiar with Two Lorries, a pastoral tale that becomes embroiled in the tragedy of Northern Ireland. But I hadn't read much else of Heaney's work.

Blackberry-Picking, for instance, reminds me of those half remembered childhood days when we would be dragged into the Gloucestershire countryside, plastic bucket in hand, to grapple with unyielding briars.

There was something rewarding about toiling for a couple of hours on those autumn evenings, as twlight settled on the soft contours of the Gloucestershire hills.

Of course there was always the competition, for me to pick more blackberries than my sister. There were those muddy, dizzy and uncertain moments when we would reach too far to get the biggest blackberry in the hedgerow, that was always too high and out of reach.

Which is probably true of life. We'll only achieve the succulent rewards if we reach for the highest blackberry.

Then again it's hard sometimes to focus on reaching for the stars when it's a wet Sunday and there's rather a large cache of wine and beer that needs to be demolished down in the kitchen.

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 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.

1 comment:

  1. When I think of blackberry picking, the first thing I think of is mosquitoes! I can remember my folks taking us kids to go blackberry picking, which I didn't mind at all, and in fact, enjoyed, or would have, if it weren't for the giant mosquitoes that seemed to be everywhere!! We were covered with bug bites by the time we got to go home. Thereafter, we sprayed on mosquito repellent, but that first year we were nearly eaten alive. HA! :)

    Great poem. I hate when berries start growing that grey fuzz on them. Such a waste.