I am comparing and contrasting the poems ‘Blackberrying’ by Sylvia Plath and ‘Blackberry Picking’ by Seamus Heaney. Both poems are about blackberries and the totally different situations in which people pick them. Both poets write in an autobiographical way and the poems are set at the same time of year, late summer. Plath’s poem is written from the perspective of a grown woman and how she discovers the blackberries as she is walking down a country lane. Heaney on the other hand, portrays his childhood adventures of blackberry picking. He writes it in first person but from the eyes of a child. He recalls how children acted and his personal memories. He uses the vocabulary and imagery a child would use. Heaney tells a story on behalf of himself and his friends; he writes as though he is talking to an adult, he uses the vocabulary of a child dictating what they have recently been doing.
Heany really tries to empathise with childish ideas by writing like one. He emphasises this through imagery. He uses short and simple statements such as ‘I always felt like crying.’ This sort of sentence is a picture that we often relate to children. Throughout the poem we see that Heaney tends to write in a more simply manner, he captures the moment as it is and explains things simply, how a child would, ‘Round hayfields, cornfields and potato drills.’ A child wouldn’t go into much detail on what things could resemble or mean whereas Plath likes to do this. Heaney looks at what he sees, or what he remembers and writes in down, Plath looks at objects and tries to see what they resemble. Heany gives us more of a background of the children’s lives, every year they went and picked berries. During ‘Blackberry Picking’ we see that Seamus Heany’s thoughts and views seem to be very important to him in this poem, he likes to express his beliefs.
Plath writes in an abstract and figurative view, instead of always stating what things are she tries explaining how they affect the atmosphere, what they resemble and the surroundings The poem is set in’ A blackberry alley, going down in hooks,’ Plath looks at the shape of things i.e. how the lane bends and twists round corners, to her it show hooks. Although she does not often explain how she is feeling, she uses a lot more meaningful words and phrases that can be ambiguous. ‘Ebon’ is a prime example, it is another word for black. A child wouldn’t know that it could mean black, where as an adult is likely to.
Both the poems have a wide range of different techniques for imagery. They both use onomatopoeia. In ‘Blackberry Picking’ words like ‘tinkling’, the sound of berries falling into the pot. Plath uses stronger words, ‘heaving’ and ‘cacophonous’ (meaning a jarring sound, she is referring to the sound of the birds nearby.)
Another technique that is solely used by Plath is metaphor. By the end of the poem when her mood has changed she starts to look more negatively on things, how nature turns on her and they way the wind is ‘slapping its phantom laundry in [her] face.’ This is a metaphor, it is not literally applicable that wind can slap you, but she feels that it is nature’s way of being horrible.
Even though I have referred to ‘Blackberry Picking’ as having simple imagery compared to Blackberrying, it does not. Seamus has varied his use of imagery; Plath looks into more detail and explains what she sees. Heany uses similes (‘its flesh was sweet like thickened wine’), repetition and strong simple words. The word ‘glutting’ is plain, yet effective. It means to stuff or in this case stuffing, the sound of it when spoken is how he has created imagery. Heany really wants to increase this childish feel, he has looked into how children reacted to things and how they exaggerate to make it sound more grotesque. When the pickings are over he describes how they rot. He is very negative and states things the way he sees them. To enhance the grotesque childish atmosphere of the poem he uses repetition. The beginning of the second verse is an excellent example.
‘We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat fungus, glutting on our cache.’
The repetition of the letter ‘F’ creates an unpleasant image of repulsion and disgust. Just after this extract there is a sibilant sound, not always at the front of the word, but often the ‘S’ or ‘C’ is emphasised.
‘The juice was stinking too.
Once…. the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair.’
The other form of repetition is a list, like the endless number of containers used by the children, to hold the berries and the description of all the colours that the berries posses. The number of containers enhances the amount of berries they have picked, something Plath does as well. Although instead of repetition she uses alliteration to show it. There was ‘nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries. Plath uses repetition but in a different way from everything else. She only repeats a few different words continually throughout the poem with no pattern, words like ‘nothing’ and ’emptiness’. By using these word she is expressing her loneliness.
Both poems are explaining journeys, metaphorically and literally. Plath describes a woman walking, in the countryside, down an alleyway. She uses the word alley to create the sense isolation and enclosure. When we walk down alleys they are normally dark, with buildings on either side. Down ‘a blackberry alley’ you could imagine yourself being surrounded by blackberries creating an atmosphere. The woman is searching for the sea, she can hear it but is scared that nature will prevent her from ever reaching it. Heany is reliving the delight of when they were allowed out to pick the berries, after ‘heavy rain and sun for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.’ His journey is how ‘[they] trekked and picked until…. the tinkling bottom had been covered.’ Heany’s poem has rhythm to it; the lines flow and are continuous.
In both of the poems journeys they change, from positive to negative. From happiness and being excited to feeling vulnerable and disappointment. The moods of the woman and boy and atmosphere are changed by the discovery of something new. The woman discovers that nature is not always nice but can be cruel and harsh. She sees the berries as friends, they love her but by the end her mood has changed and she’s not as content. The boy recognizes that nature is horrible and everything dies and nature doesn’t spare anything, all flesh ceases to exist. He sees the blackberries as a cache, a reward. His mood changes after the berries start to rot and their treasure isn’t worth anything, ‘It wasn’t fair’.
As I have mentioned Plath likes to go into more detail about things, she looks at what things mean and how their shapes resemble things. Birds above are like ‘Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.’ Plath write writes in a pensive mood, she is pleased with the time that she has by herself and is grateful for what she has in life. The woman, is very observant and does not have any real goals throughout the poem the only thing she wants is to find the sea, as that is were she was heading from the beginning. The woman has a calm attitude; she does not seem tense or especially worried about anything. She does not see the bad things in life and does not judge objects before she has thought about it. To her even the ugliest things are made positive. The boys in Heany’s poems do have a goal, they want to pick all the berries, and they believe that they will gain something from it.
The last common point I can find between both poems is the subject of Blood. They both talk about how the colours in berries are like ‘summers blood.’ Heany refers to a ‘purple clot’ this is ambiguous it could be seen as a clot of blood or as a clot being a knot, berries being like knots. Heany carries on his childish theme throughout by introducing references to children stories like Bluebeard and how his hands were sticky with blood. Plath, being more mature, like the berries and sees them more as friends rather than belongings or treasure. She talks about a blood sisterhood, how they have bonded together.
When we look more closely into poetry. We can see that two similar poems are completely different, whether the subject be the same or different.