Writing about a rural tradition.
We went blackberrying this afternoon. There is a lane near us, away from traffic fumes, packed with ripe fruit, and apparently unknown to other foragers. As I was picking the plump berries I started to think of two poets who wrote about this age-old activity. One is Sylvia Plath (Blackberrying) and the other is Seamus Heaney (Blackberry Picking). It’s interesting to see how they describe the process. Both writers compare the blackberry juice to blood, perhaps referring to the brambles’ sacrifice in yielding up their produce, or maybe reminding us that blackberrying can be painful. There are similar references to colour. Plath describes the ‘blue-red juices’ and Heaney refers to a ‘glossy-purple clot’, both descriptions again reminiscent of blood. A sense of maturity and opulence is suggested by Heaney’s simile ‘like thickened wine’ and Plath’s metaphor ‘honey-feast’ – both, interestingly, using food imagery. Each poem depicts the physical process of picking fruit. Heaney refers to the ‘briars [which] scratched’ and Plath describes how the berries ‘squander on [her] fingers.’ There is a similarly strong sense of physicality and immediacy.
Prose writers can learn a lot from these poets, who vividly immerse their readers in their sensuous descriptions whilst using the blackberrying experience to reflect more abstract ideas.
My arms are throbbing with nettle stings and I’m covered in scratches but I have two overflowing tubs of blackberries in the freezer – and I’ve learned a little more about the writing process too. Not a bad afternoon’s harvest.