Study Guide

Blackberry-Picking Lines 15-18

By Seamus Heaney

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Lines 15-18

Lines 15-16

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

  • Back to the bodily stuff again. Heaney's describing the ripe ones on top like a plate of staring eyeballs. Gross, right?
  • Their hands are all cut up from the thorns.
  • "Bluebeard" refers to a British fairy tale about a freaky guy with a blue beard who kills his wives (he had like seven of them), then hides their bodies in a room, where their blood trail is discovered by his last wife. Creepy. So this poem is taking a dark turn. No doubt he uses Bluebeard because of their blue-stained palms, but are they being compared to killers of berries here? Heaney did describe the blackberries as human a few times.

Lines 17-18

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

  • They stored their stash of berries in a washtub of some kind in a cowshed ("byre"), but by the time they finally got it all the way full, the berries began to get moldy.
  • Using "hoard" gives more value to the berries. We hoard money and other valuable things. If he simply used "stored," the effect wouldn't be the same. You can tell that these blackberries are important.
  • Using "fur" to describe the mold makes us think of the blood/flesh stuff he was using earlier in the poem. We know berries are living things, but it seems he's elevating them beyond plant status, to animal or human status.

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