Poetry Monday has been on holiday recently. It’s back on a Saturday night, in special honour of the great poet Seamus Heaney who died this week. Poetry doesn’t really do celebrities, but if it did, Seamus Heaney would be an A-lister. Nobel przewinner, poet in residence at Harvard, certainly one of the most celebrated writers of recent times, and yet so much of his writing is grounded in the everyday, and the ordinary. This poem is written precisely for this time of year. It’s from his Death of a Naturalist collection, (published 1966) which was one of the first books of poetry I ever read, I think, as we studied it for GCSE. It was definitely one of those poems that made me sit up and realise that particular power that poetry has – and the way that the right choice of words can convey so much. The meaning that I take from it is the illustraition of one of the lessons you have to learn as you grow up – that there are some things in life, some moments, which you must simply enjoy. They’re not to keep, or preserve or to hold on to.
Heaney’s writing, his poetry and his words, on the other hand; that we can hold on to.
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.