Blackberry Eating

by Galway Kinnell

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In "Blackberry Eating," what is the significance of the line "the stalks very prickly, a penalty"?

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In “Blackberry Eating,” the significance of the line “the stalks very prickly, a penalty” might relate to its odious, unpleasant tone. Prior to the fourth line, Galway Kinnell’s poem comes across as rather innocuous. In the first three lines, the speaker announces that they're off to pick and eat some delicious blackberries. It’s late September, and picking blackberries during this time is one of the speaker’s favorite activities.

As the fourth line arrives, one discovers that this activity is not so harmless. The “prickly” quality of the stalks suggests that there’s something odious and edgy about picking blackberries. The “penalty” reinforces the threatening atmosphere. The sharp, retributive diction helps subvert the relatively peaceful blackberry-picking scene.

With the fourth line, Kinnell gives voice to the somewhat dangerous and punishing aspects of nature. The line makes the poem contentious. It’s as if the line generates the conflict in the poem, which could be between the picker and the blackberries, but it might also be between the stalks and whoever penalized them for producing such sumptuous fruit.

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