At this moment in time I am studying two poems by Seamus Heaney. Seamus Heaney was born in 1939 in County Derry, Northern Ireland. He grew up on a farm and was one of nine children. He is well educated, having achieved a first in English at Queen's College, Belfast. He remained in Belfast and became a lecturer at St Joseph's College and later at Queen's College, and has lectured at various institutions since that time. Heaney has published several volumes of poetry including the award-winning Death of a Naturalist, Station Island, The Haw Lantern and more recently, Seeing Things.
His poetry is usually quite accessible to readers of all types and he is one of the most popular poets of the present day. The poems I am studying are "Blackberry Picking ", and " Mid-term Break".
"Blackberry-picking" gives a vivid account of playing in his father's field in his childhood and picking blackberries. But it is really about the hope and disappointment of a naive child and reminiscence of adulthood, as Blackberry Picking becomes a metaphor for other experiences.
"Mid-Term Break" is about the death of Heaney's infant brother (Christopher) and how people (including himself) reacted to this. The poem's title suggests a holiday but this "break" does not happen for pleasant reasons. For most of the poem Heaney writes of people's unnatural reactions, but at the end he is able to grieve honestly.
"Blackberry Picking" is set out in iambic pentameter couplets. The poem has a clear structure even though it is one straight verse .It has no stanzas to keep the pace, which resembles the tireless child like in the poem in its dynamics. There are two sections that match the two stages of the poet's thoughts, the happiness of his day out picking blackberries, and the disappointment of how things didn't work out The poem keeps a quick rhythm and pauses only when the punctuation does to give effect for both moods. Like many of Heaney's poems it is full of monosyllabic nouns like "clot", "cache", "bush", "flesh" and "rot", to keep the pace as well as give effect.
In contrast to "Blackberry Picking", "Mid-term Break" has a clear formal structure split up into 7 stanzas of three lines with an eleven-syllable phrase at the end for more effect. This gives the audience more of a direction as to how to recite the poem. The poem also has an iambic meter. There are occasional rhymes but the poem's last two lines form a rhyming couplet, and emphasize the briefness of the child's life. Many of the lines run on - they are only stopped in the last line of a stanza, and in three cases the lines run on from one stanza to the next. As in much of Heaney's poetry, there is no special vocabulary - mostly this is the common English.
Though the two poems are about events in Heaney's childhood, "Blackberry Picking", is joyful and portrays his childhood as exuberant and mischievous, full of experiences that a young child would enjoy.
In the first section Heaney presents the tasting of the blackberries as a physical pleasure - referring to sweet "flesh", to "summer's blood" and to "lust". He uses adjectives of colour and suggests the excitement of the children, using every available container to hold the fruit they have picked. There is also a hint that this picking is somehow violent - after the "blood" of the berries comes out, there is a claim that the children's hands were "sticky as Bluebeard's" (whose hands were covered with the blood of his wives).
The second half of the poem concerns the effort to save the berries - always a disappointment, as the fungus set in and the fruit fermented. This means that the children who have slaved away in order to enjoy the fruits of their labour, literally, have nothing but what it quickly becomes, "lovely canfuls" smell "of rot", loaded with "fur" and "rat-grey fungus". In the 21st century it is hard to conceive how disappointed...