‘Blackberries’ by Leslie Norris and ‘Blackberry Picking’ by Seamus Heaney are two different texts but each writer portrays similar messages. ‘Blackberries’ is a short story set in Wales whereas ‘Blackberry Picking’ is a poem set in Ireland. As the titles suggest, both texts portray the themes of blackberries, each text describes the experiences of young boys picking blackberries.
‘Blackberries’ is the story written in the third person of a small boy who is experiencing lots of different thoughts and feelings as he begins to grow up. Norris has used this story to accentuate themes that all children go through but he has portrayed them in a very realistic way that is easy to understand and is also entertaining for the reader.
‘Blackberry Picking’ is a poem that focuses on the author’s memories as a child and the feelings he experiences on the farm in Ireland. The poem is extremely descriptive and the poet conveys his feelings in a very direct way.
At first glance the main comparison between the two texts is ‘blackberries!’ But, by reading and studying the texts we can see there are many themes in common. Both texts focus very strongly on the themes of growing up and facing disappointment. Norris describes the boy’s disappointment when his parents are arguing and Heaney uses it when he discovers the rotten berries. So in this way and many others the texts content and themes are similar even though the texts were written at different places and by two very different authors.
In the poem ‘Blackberries’ Heaney portrays his memories of his childhood. The poem is set out in two stanzas with no apparent rhymes scheme. The poem begins by describing the theme of blackberries. It says ‘given heavy rain and sun for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.’ Just the right conditions were needed for ripe luscious blackberries. He has lived on the farm his whole life so this is an annual event, which he obviously looks forward to, and the excitement in the first stanza portrays this. Heaney emphasises certain words like ‘clot’ and ‘knot.’ These words have a very hard, harsh sound and are monosyllabic so it gives a really good effect to the poem.
The writer then describes how ‘you ate that first one and its flesh was sweet’ this then triggers the ‘lust for picking’, which the children experience. These few lines create the feeling of adrenaline, which the children are experiencing, and which sent the children out picking for hours, looking through bushes where ‘briars scratched’ this gives the feeling that even though they were being scratched and they were tired, they were still having the time of their lives. The writer indicates how enthusiastic they were in their search by suggesting all the places they searched for the berries.
Heaney uses onomatopoeia with the word ‘tinkling’ to describe the blackberries hitting the bottom of the bucket once they had been collected. The poet describes the blackberries vividly ‘big dark blobs burned like a plate of eyes’ this simile describes how the blackberries were staring at them as if willing the children to eat them. Heaney then compares the children to the murderous pirate Bluebeard, who used to kill his wives so the comparison of ‘palms as sticky as bluebeards’ is really effective because the poem makes so many references to blood. The poem also uses blood to describe the colour of the blackberries and the texture of them, but this constant reference to blood could be trying to represent something else. Blood is usually associated with injury or death so by mentioning blood it could be symbolising the death of Heaney’s carefree childhood.
The theme of the poem changes form excitement and anticipation to disappointment in the second stanza. This stanza portrays Heaney’s disappointment as the blackberries begin to rot. ‘A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache’ this line is very effective in describing the rotting fruit but also gives us an idea of Heaneys feelings. The words ‘rat-grey’ suggest the way he feels because rats are usually associated with dirt or disease.
‘Glutting’ has a very harsh and direct sound, which could suggest that Heaney feels very bitter as the berries started to rot. After describing the rotten berries Heaney uses the line ‘it wasn’t fair’ this is quite a childish comment to make, as obviously there is nothing anyone can do about the rotting berries, but Heaney still conveys his childlike disappointment. He remembers being excited but then experienced a definite anti-climax, as the poet ends the poem with the line ‘Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.’ The theme of disappointment, which is evident throughout this stanza, and the message of ‘each year’ also tells us that this is something he kept repeating. This suggests that Heaney is trying to hold on to something, perhaps his special memories, and a piece of his childhood, which corresponds with the prevailing themes in the short story by Leslie Norris.
‘Blackberries’ by Leslie Norris follows the very dominant theme of firsts or new experiences. It follows the story of a young boy who is beginning to grow up and realise the differences there are between his childlike world and the adult world of his parents.
One thing that is similar between the two texts is that names are never mentioned. In Heaney’s poem there are constant references to ‘we’ or ‘us’, which suggest a group of young children, and in Norris’ story the characters are known as the boy, the mother etc.
When the story begins we meet the young boy and his mother and immediately clues are given that refer to the setting and era in which the story is set. This is the first time the child is going to have his hair cut and references in the text show that he is nervous as he ‘scuffed his feet’ but also that he is very well behaved. The hairdresser, Mr. Frensham talks to the boy in a way, which makes him feel at ease and a lot more grown up. He is very kind to the boy and he talks to his mother. Throughout the first few paragraphs there are things, which indicate the boys childishness. Phrases like ‘he moved his finger against the inner surface of the sheet’ and ‘he liked those shapes’ show how young and naï¿½ve the boy is.
A lot of children fidget and make shapes and this little boy is no exception even though he is so impeccably behaved. The attention to detail in this part of the passage is very exact which shows us that the boy is very wary of what is going on around him and he is watching everything that is going on. He is very curious but doesn’t ask questions. He is very polite and just sits quietly. It is in the next few lines that we get a definite comparison to Heaney’s work. In Heaney’s poem it was implied that Heaney was trying to keep a piece of his childhood, as is the boy in the story. It says ‘he could see little bunches on the floor, not belonging to him anymore’, this reference to the boy’s hair suggests that he felt he was losing something. After his first haircut it is clear that the boy is growing up and leaving behind part of his childhood, just as Heaney did in the poem. The mother is strict with the boy even though he is so young, but this makes the boy very well behaved and this is portrayed throughout the story.
The mother then takes the boy to buy a new cap ‘like his cousin Harry’s cap’ this suggests that the boy looks up to his cousin and wants to be like him. Norris describes every little detail of the cap, which shows how excited the boy is about getting the cap. In this small section we find out that maybe the family is experiencing money problems when the mum says ‘its expensive enough.’ It says ‘the boy carried the cap himself’ which shows that the boy is obviously very proud of the cap. It then says that ‘they put the cap in a drawer when they got home.’ This is implying that the cap was being kept safe until the boy’s father returned home.
Norris the goes on to describe the boys relationship with his father. Again Norris uses a lot of detail to emphasise how important this man is to the little boy. When the father is eating he feeds his small son ‘as if he were feeding a small bird’ this description describes that he is very close to his son and he is really gentle with him. The boy stood in front of his dad with his new hat on waiting for the mans approval:
‘On Sunday we’ll go for a walk, just you and I. We’ll be men together’
This shows how proud the father is of his son and how strong the bond is between them. This is also another first for the boy, his first time being a man with his father.
There is then a change in time and setting when the story describes the boy’s walk along the canal with his father. As the boy walks along the canal he thinks about things that his grandfather had told him about how the canal used to be. It is clear that the boys childish imagination is at work again ‘there they go sailing away to China’ this is a very childish thing things and we slip into the idea of the boy being very childish just like Heaney was in his poem.
Then there is the mention of Fletchers Wood. This is another first for the boy as he has never been to Fletchers Wood before. The father had told the son about visits to Fletchers Wood before so the boy seemed very excited to go there. It is then that there is the mention of blackberries and the comparison to Heaney’s poem becomes more obvious. Norris uses lots of sensory images to describe the blackberries, just as the poem does. ‘Each of its purple globes held a point of reflected light’ this describes the blackberries as if they were shining. Next Norris describes the boy as he is eating the blackberries ‘he rolled it with his tongue’ this is implying that he is trying to savour the taste of the blackberries, just as the children did in Heaneys poem. The boy and his father had only good intentions when they decide to take some blackberries home to the mother but this is where the tone and mood of the story changes, just as Heaneys poem did towards the end.
The father and son collected the blackberries in the boy’s hat and didn’t realise the mistake they had made until they got home. Suddenly, the boy was thrown into the world of his parents arguing, something he had never experienced before. Again the idea is portrayed that money is a problem for the family so when the mother says ‘if you had anything like a job’ there is an idea given about the era of the story. The clue that the father doesn’t work could mean that the story is set during the Depression in the 1930’s. The boy has never witnessed his parents arguing before and suddenly realises that he has to face up to the reality that not everything is perfect and that he must come away from his childlike fantasy world at times. Suddenly we fins the boy crying to himself so his parents don’t see him ‘knowing that this was a different weeping to any he had experienced before.’ He felt guilty even though technically none of this was his fault. The argument was yet another first for the boy as he had never seen or felt this before. Norris ends the story with the line ‘he must learn sometimes to be alone’ The boy feels dejected and realises, just as Heaney does that good things like days out or blackberries don’t last forever.
Even though the texts are not related in anyway we can still find links and comparisons between them especially in the themes throughout. Obviously one of the main comparisons is with the blackberries, but instead of looking at them as just fruit they could be viewed as a comparison to growing up and how all-good things go ‘rotten.’