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by Seamus Heaney

The Harvested Berries

Symbol Analysis

Here comes the dramatic turn. The second stanza berries are pretty much the metaphoric fall-out of the first stanza berries. Everything that was hopeful, young, and lusty is now just the opposite. The berries are doomed to rot and die, just like humans. They're no longer that lust-worthy glossy purple – they're furry and gross. This is what time will do, Heaney reminds us; and regardless of how much we want to keep something in its prime, it's impossible.

  • Line 18: Yep, the beauty is starting to fade. Already there are signs of nastiness and rot. Notice how it's "when the bath was filled," so presumably when the speaker finally is starting to feel satisfied, his hopes are dashed. So the rotting berries symbolize what here? Aging? Mortality? The transience of the things? We'd say all of the above!
  • Line 19: Funny Heaney should use the word "glutting" here. In the first part of the poem he was the glutton, but now things have turned around and a fungus is eating away at his precious riches.
  • Lines 20-21: OK now we're getting to the point. The "nothing lasts" message Heaney has been dancing around. If we are thinking metaphorically about humans, "once off the bush/ […] the sweet flesh would turn sour" could mean, once out of the womb, we begin our dying process.
  • Line 24: Just in case you missed it, here is the "have hope despite the facts of life" message. So the speaker's desire to keep the fresh berries fresh is a metaphor for the human desire to keep what's good in life from leaving or dying. To make all those wonderful temporary things permanent somehow – to keep summer from turning into chilly fall, to keep kittens from becoming cats, to keep our parents' hair from turning gray, and so on.

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