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.
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
An Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer born at Mossbawn farmhouse between Castledawson and Toomebridge and who eventually lived in Dublin. Heaney was Professor of Poetry at both Harvard and Oxford Universities and has been awarded numerous awards for his work including the Nobel Prize for Literature. His personal papers are held by the National Library of Ireland. He has been called “the most important Irish poet since Yeats” and also “the greatest poet of our age”.
Rene Cloke (1905-1995)
Born in Plymouth, UK. Cloke is a published author and illustrator of children’s books as well as postcards and greeting cards.