In this essay I shall compare these two poets by studying one poem by each of them and analysing the different literary devices used. Both ‘Blackberry picking’ and ‘Blackberrying’ contain strong and powerful uses of imagery.
Blackberrying is the first poem, which I shall be studying. It begins, again, rather dully and yet brings across more of a scenic image. “Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries.” Obviously this opening line is trying to show a picture of large numbers of blackberries, but notice how she emphasises the negatives as though it is the fact that here are no forms of life around which she is enjoying and not the blackberries. The first image, which she writes of ‘A Blackberry alley, going down in hooks’, this, is quite a sinister image for each to start. The second image, which she writes of, is that of the size of the berries “big as the ball on your thumb” but she then adds to this by saying the berries are “dumb as eyes.”
This is an interesting image to be putting to the reader for she is mixing the senses suggesting that the berries have eyes. However this does not bother her because unlike people the berries cannot speak to her or harm her in any way. She moves on from this to include anthropomorphism by describing the berries as “fat”, this is normal terminology for a person or other animal not for a plant, implying again that the berries do have certain almost human qualities. She then moves on to be overwhelmed by the berries, “I had not asked for such blood sisterhood” now indicating that she even has a bond with the berries even though the image is simply of the berries being squashed. Also the “Blood sisterhood” not only indicates a bond between Plath and the berries but the suggestion that Plath belongs to a long line of women. The idea that Plath is constantly needing reassured that she is loved is shown in the line ‘they must love me’; also it reflects an element of success on Plath’s part. She enjoys this and the control she has over the berries “They accommodate themselves to my milk bottle” this shows an image of berries falling passively into the containment awaiting them.
The next stanza brings the only animals in the poem “Overhead go the coughs in black, cacophonous flocks.” The image introduced here is one of disgust, for the birds are not welcome to her and this is shown in the poem and draws a similar picture in the readers’ mind. The idea of ‘burnt paper’ could be in reference to the burning of Hughes work, here her writing reflects guilt and even possibly revenge. Then there is a sudden change of tact; there is an element of doubt in her writing, shown in her use of colloquial language. The next reference to the birds is of them “protesting” and “protesting” showing them to be out of character with the rest of the scene. The subject of the verse is then changes and she talks of the berries again. However, this time she talks of a rotting bush, but what is more interesting is that she sees the bush as beautiful “I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies”. You can see her simultaneous disgust, instead of seeing the reality she is trying to be naive so as not to spoil the scene. She then talks in greater detail of the flies and even makes them out as pleasant” hanging their blue-green bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen”; she is visualizing them as something artistic.
The final stanza changes from rich language to prosaic language talking, of the end of the end of the valley and the suddenness at which it is her “From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me”. Even though the next image does not convey to me any relevant meaning it is a very domestic image of “phantom laundry in my face”. She follows by talking of the shrubs and bushes around her and does this by showing them to be pure but the sea to be a corrupter of this purity by throwing salt at them “These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt”. However, she goes onto talk of the sea as an awe-inspiring site “nothing, nothing but a great space of white and pewter lights”. She ends the poem talking of the sounds of the waves and her dislike to them “A din like silversmiths beating and beating at an intractable metal”. She uses the adjective “din” for this description, which like “cacophonous” is an ugly way of describing sound. The last word of this poem, although used here as a simile, it is still a contrast to everything else in the poem.
I believe the basis of this poem is Plath’s need for peace. This is because everything pleasant and passive in the poem is described in a loving way whereas the squawking of the birds and the crashing of the sea are described very much to her dislike. Looking from an alternative perspective I believe the alley is supposed to represent Plath’s journey through life. This starts with the mass of blackberries ripe and perfect as a child. “Choughs in black cacophonous flocks” could represent those people who have disrupted her life. Finally we reach the “bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies” this could be seen as how Plath sees her old age before she reaches the sudden end “From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me”. On one level this is a simple narrative but on another it is her feeling of infertility and fear of old age.
To show a clear contrast between Plath and Heaney I shall study ‘Blackberry-Picking’ by Heaney. The poem begins in a very direct manner setting the scenario, there is no rhythm, rhyme or second meanings “Late August, gives heavy rain and sun for a full week, the Blackberries would ripen”. Then instead of describing the whole scene, he isolates just one berry and talks of that “At first, just one, a glossy purple clot among others red, green, hard as a knot”. Here Heaney is relating to the reader his exact thoughts producing a strong picture in the mind. He adds to this by sharing his own thoughts with the reader “You ate that fist one and its flesh was sweet”. He then starts on a more refined use of imagery by always relating his previous description with ones further down. The next clever uses of words after this comes a few lines down when he entwines compound words into his lines to create the feeling that they used everything they could “Sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots”. It is when the containers begin to fill that Heaney cleverly mixes the senses by using a sound descriptive word to talk of something he sees, “Until the tinkling of the bottom has been covered”, this represents a first use of onomatopoeia.
This is something I did not notice in Plath’s writing but what I did notice was her imagining the blackberries as eyes as Heaney does here “on top big dark blobs burned like a plate of eyes”. This may suggest a correlation in the writings but I shall talk more of this in my conclusion”. The last line of this verse there is another reference to blood “our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s”. This is the third reference to blood in this verse (the first “a glossy purple clot”) showing that Heaney is well able to link his poems.
Heaney’s amalgamation of alliteration into this poem “But when the bath was filled we found a fur”; shows Heaney’s good use of rhyme, but unlike Plath does not complicate descriptions more than necessary. ‘A rat-grey fungus glutting on our cache”, shows a good and clear use of metaphor, the fungus resembles a rat in its appearance the verb “glutting” also shows a similarity to the way in which a rat acts, a distinct use of personification. This is the only direct use of it I can see in this poem. The last few lines where we see the child in Heaney coming through “It wasn’t fair “. This shows how Heaney loves to recollect this moment through childhood images. Again this is shown in the last two lines when he talks of longing for something to happen even though he knew it never could “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not”. This is again the thought of a child being spoken of in this final image creating a good description of the activity as a whole and not just the scenery.
From analysing this poem it is clear that Heaney has a great love for his childhood activities of long ago. His use of imagery in this poem shows how he tries to convey the atmosphere in a basic and direct manner.
To conclude, I would say that Heaney bases his poem on memories he has had from his childhood and his love for the rural surroundings and way of life, He appeals to all five senses with his use of onomatopoeia. His poems also seem to relate very much to life and learning. He enjoys his nostalgic images and rights about them with a passion.
I see Plath as very much an opposite writer. To her images are unsettling for the world to her is a frightening place full of objects and people that can hurt her (e.g. the sea). She uses her poems to express the journey through life, for example, the Blackberry alley, I have explained, as her life moving forward and she does not know when it will end “I do not think the sea will appear at all”. To finally conclude, I would say that Heaney uses images to express his opinions the readers mind, whereas Plath uses imagery to describe her mind (her feelings and emotions) to the outside world.