Blackberrying

Here then, as promised is the indulgence of blackberry poems.

(For any very young readers confused by Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackberry please know that the Blackberry was a communication device from the early C21st introduced sometime after the era of cocoa tins connected with string.)

So many blackberry poems. It’s almost as if all the poets had a convention and conspired to elevate the humble blackberry to poetic status.  I like them all and I’m sure there are more out there – in the wild and hanging on the brambly vines of modern verse.

But amongst them all I discovered two gems that were new to me.

The first is by Yusef Komunyakaa.

Just look how the simple act of a child picking berries and selling them by the roadside shows him “Limboed between world” – a painful place of heartache, separation, judgment and shame. A simple incident becomes a sharp and powerful commentary on racial, social and religious contrasts. Fingers stained like a printer? Or thief? Old “lime-covered history” has a way of breaking through. It’s an astonishing poem. Powerful and memorable.

Komunyakaa grew up in Louisiana and currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.

My second poem I discovered while I was reading about the kindertransport – the ten thousand children sent to England in the late thirties by parents so desperate to save them from the Nazis that they sent them away to strangers. In reading about who they were – and what happened to them and their parents – I discovered Gerda Mayer and her poetry.

Mayer was born in Karlsbad, Czeckolsovakia and escaped to England on a flight to Croyden in March 1939, one day before the Germans marched into Prague. She was eleven. She never saw her parents again.

And here is a full cluster of blackberries. Have I missed any? Which is your favorites?

Blackberry Gathering
Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes (1859–1912) 1912

Two Girls Picking Blackberries*
Walter Bonner Gash (1869–1928)

The featured image is a detail from the beautiful work of Ann Mortimer.

Autumn Hedgerows, Ann Mortimer.

2 Comments

  1. And I was expecting Chaucer or Woolf! For me, out of touch with the actual berries, it’s nice to be reminded that blackberrying is more than metaphor. And this collection of pictures and poems make a lovely post. — Elizabeth

    • You’re right. Eng.Lit is thick with blackberries just as the hedgerows and scrubby places of old brick walls, rail lines and canal banks.

      Virginia Woolf’s diary entries speaks of foraging for mushrooms and picking ripe blackberries to compensate for wartime shortages at Asheham in summer of the 1917. Elsewhere – in “The Waves” she uses the term “blackberrying” as a means of escape, freedom and carefree wandering: “it is tempting now and then to go blackberrying’.

      Chaucer’s Pardoner – in his sincere and earnest concern for the spiritual wellbeing of others as a means to line his own pockets – worries about souls “goon a-blakeberyed!”

      Then there’s Shakespeare where the fruit is a stand-in for something common and worthless: :
      “If my reasons were as cheap as blackberries, I wouldn’t give away my reasons just because I was commanded. Not I.” – Falstaff, Henry IV Part 1.

      And of course John Clare:
      “He roves, half-indolent and self-employed,
      To rob the little birds,
      Of hips and pendant haws,
      And sloes, dim-covered as with dewy veils
      And rambling bramble-berries, pulpy and sweet,
      Arching their prickly trails
      Half o’er the narrow lane.”
      – from Autumn.

      The list goes on.

      But perhaps the best description of the joys of blackberrying is from “Cider with Rosie”:

      “Blackberries clustered against the sky, heavy and dark as thunder, which we plucked and gobbled, hour after hour, lips purple, hands stained to the wrists.” – Laurie Lee.

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