Seamus Heaney’s View of Experiencing Joy as Expressed in His Poem-blackberry
The Moments of Happiness
Despite the variety of cultures and lifestyles throughout the world, there remains a unique element that is integral to every heritage: the universal language of joy. The little things in life are truly the things that matter, as any wise child could tell you, and it is through these experiences that one grows as an individual. For example, in his poem “Blackberry-Picking,” Seamus Heaney makes use of strong tactile imagery and sensuous poetic devices, including diction and rhythm, to appeal to the reader’s innermost, childlike senses, thus connecting with the reader on a deeper, more personal level; through this connection, Heaney uncovers the most basic and natural human instinct: greed. Heaney conveys a deeper understanding of the mechanics of life and human nature as a whole through his deceptively simple description of picking blackberries. Such an innocuous action takes on a deeper symbolism as Heaney depicts the “stains upon the tongue and lust for / Picking” (lines 7-8). Such lust is a part of human behavior; by nature, human beings are never truly satisfied with what they have, their natural greed unable to be sated. The blackberry-pickers in the poem are sent out “with milk cans, pea tins, jam pots” (Heaney 9) to fetch as many berries as they can possibly stuff in their containers. The use of spondee in this particular line not only draws the reader’s attention to the action being carried out but also places emphasis on the common household items mentioned, introducing a sense of familiarity in the first stanza of the poem. In addition, the poet relies on such intense visual and tangible imagery in order to further this personal sentiment. By candidly referring to blackberries as “a gloss purple clot / Among others, red, green, hard as a knot” (3-4), Heaney draws on a similar incident that most young children experience when exposed to a sweet blackberry for the first time, a reference that is further reinforced by the forcible use of end rhyme. Sensuous, melodious diction throughout the entire first stanza creates a soft flow reminiscent of natural human instincts, thereby solidifying the theory that such anticipatory greed is an innate part of human behavior.
What may be considered the strongest element of Seamus Heaney’s masterpiece is the sudden, dramatic shift in mood that occurs within the opening lines of the second stanza. Instead of being vivid, appealing, and reminiscent of childhood, the poem takes on a macabre, foul air; the once-luscious fruit is now overrun by “a rat-grey fungus” (Heaney 19). Such disgusting images are in drastic contrast with the sweet, juicy fruit portrayed in the first stanza of the poem, reflecting the inevitable changes wrought by the passage of time. Verbal irony only reinforces this statement when Heaney proclaims “that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot” (22), a sardonic declaration that, through contrast, emphasizes the exact opposite of what is said. As a direct consequence of the overzealous greed of the blackberry-pickers, their fruit is doomed to rot. The narrator is fully aware of the impending results of his sinful greed, yet “each year [he] hoped they’d keep, knew they would not” (Heaney 24). Man attempts to assert his dominance over nature by playing games with it, bargaining with an unswayable force.
All in all, Seamus Heaney aims to capture the moments of happiness and the little joys of life in his poem, such as the whimsical adventure of blackberry-picking; nevertheless, he does not “sugarcoat” his words and speaks bluntly about the harsh realities of life, as when he elaborates on the rancid berries. Insatiability, a natural and irrepressible force, wields influence over man and corrupts humanity as a whole, leading each individual to believe that he or she has the authority to supersede the superior presence of nature. Self-centeredness is rampant in today’s egocentric society and if unchecked, may result in the metaphorical “rotting” of the fruits of civilization, the little things that make people happy in a cold, selfish world.
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The Moments of Happiness Despite the variety of cultures and lifestyles throughout the world, there remains a unique element that is integral to every heritage: the universal language of joy. […]