Here's where a little of the author's bio is helpful. Though Heaney is no longer a practicing Catholic, he sure did grow up that way. He was raised going to church and to Catholic school, and while he might not associate himself with the strict laws of the religion now, it still affects the way he looks at the world. So a lot of Biblical imagery will pop up in Heaney's poetry, often with confused or complicated thoughts attached to it. Let's pick it apart in this poem and see what we can come up with.
- Lines 5-7: These lines, with the flesh, wine, blood, and tongue symbolize the Eucharist, a Christian ceremony. During the Eucharist, bread (put on the tongue) represents the flesh of Christ, and the wine represents Christ's blood. So this is not the most subtle set of symbols that Heaney's ever laid out. But our job is to figure out why he would incorporate this symbol into blackberry picking. What do you think?
- Lines 16-17: Again, we're back to Christ. Thorns are closely associated with the crucifixion of Jesus because the New Testament says that he had a crown of thorns forced on him. Thorn pricks on the hands (from the berries) are also awfully similar to nails driven through Jesus' hands during the crucifixion. So Heaney is showing us a symbol of crucifixion. This is tying the blackberry picking in very closely with sacrifice, tradition, and belief.