Poetry Reading: 'Blackberry Picking'

Blackberries, black, red and green

hide caption"At first, just one, a glossy purple clot among others, red, green, hard as a knot."

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As summer wanes, we hear the words of Irish poet Seamus Heaney, read by NPR's Tom Cole.

"Blackberry Picking" can be found in Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996. Heaney, born in 1939, won the Nobel Prize in 1995. According to his Nobel biography, he grew up as a country boy on a farm in County Derry, northern Ireland.

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 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.

"Blackberry-Picking," from OPENED GROUND: SELECTED POEMS 1966 -1996 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney. Used by Permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Books Featured In This Story

Opened Ground
Opened Ground

Selected Poems 1966-1996

by Seamus Heaney

Paperback, 443 pages | purchase

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  • Opened Ground
  • Selected Poems 1966-1996
  • Seamus Heaney

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