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by Seamus Heaney

The Fresh Blackberries

Symbol Analysis

The fresh blackberries are the ones in the first stanza and we're going to look at them separately from the harvested, rotting berries because they mean something different in the poem. They're doing some serious symbolic work here, and in fact they mean different things at different times. At one point, these fresh berries represent the speaker's lust, and at another, his bounty. They also symbolize youth and hope. We'll get you started with some examples so you see what we mean.

  • Lines 3-4: Hope, Expectation, and Youth. Here the speaker gets a glimpse of what's to come – more ripe and beautiful berries once those hard green ones get a little more time and warmth! He's excited and, having waited for a year (they only come out this time in the summer), his expectations are high. So here the fresh berry represents a first glimmer of hope.
  • But they also represent youth. Ever heard someone say "he's a little green" when they mean to say that he's young or inexperienced in something? Well, here the green berries are just like that – young, inexperienced, and new to the world. Just plain not ready. The first purple one, though, symbolizes the berry in its prime. So, not a green baby, but something in the shining hours of its youth.
  • Lines 7-8: Here the berries symbolize what the speaker lusts after. You can fill in anything here – women, money, etc.; anything that he strongly desires and can't seem to get his fill of. We tend to think of lust as strongest in younger, livelier people. So you see, both youth and lust wind around each other in this poem.
  • Lines 10-14: These lines show how far the speaker's willing to go to fulfill his hopes and desires. He goes to great lengths and with the greedy perseverance of, say, a man who's all smitten with a woman. Ain't no mountain high enough!
  • Line 18: OK, so this isn't the first stanza, but it's the beginning of the poem's turn. The berry stash symbolizes his gluttony and greed, but also his almost naïve hope to keep what's young and beautiful, well, young and beautiful forever. If we think of the lust after the berries as a metaphor for the speaker's lust after a beautiful young woman, we can assume that she's not going to be young and beautiful forever either. Eventually her hair is going to turn gray and her skin will wrinkle. But the speaker doesn't want to think about that; he wants to hope he can keep them fresh and perfect forever.

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