What are some of the literary devices used in the poem "Blackberrying" by Sylvia Plath?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In her poem "Blackberrying," Sylvia Plath makes use of repetition, imagery, and figurative language to describe the speaker's experiences in nature and the thoughts the natural world evokes from her.

The poem's first stanza begins with an example of repetition. In the first few lines, the speaker writes,

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving (1-4).
The poem starts with the negative "Nobody" and then repeats "nothing" twice in the first line. We get the sense that the speaker is alone in the natural environment. The only thing of significance is the blackberries, another word that is repeated in variations four times in the first four lines. The repetition tells the reader how bountiful the blackberries are and contrasts the nothingness around them. The blackberries dominate their environment.
Next, Plath includes figurative language and imagery to describe the blackberries:
Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides. (4-9)
Lines 4 and 5 feature similes, as the speaker compares the berries to "the ball of my thumb" and "eyes." The similes give us a sense of the berries' size but also show the speaker directly relating herself to the landscape. The following lines include imagery describing the color and plumpness of the berries. The speaker describes a connection with the berries as a "a blood sisterhood" and infers that the fruits "love" her. She personifies the berries, giving them emotions and actions, as when they "accommodate themselves" to their container.
The second stanza begins with more sensory detail and imagery as we see birds fly overhead, imbuing the landscape with "cacophonous" sound (10). The birds are metaphorically described as "Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky" (11). The next blackberry bush that the speaker encounters is depicted through vivid imagery:
one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen (15-16).
The ripeness of the berries is conveyed by the number of flies gathered there. The flies are then personified when the speaker says, "they believe in heaven." The flies' behavior is like worship; they are totally devoted to the bush of blackberries.
The third and final stanza sees the speaker move past the berries to the sea. The poem ends with a somewhat bleak image:
A last hook brings me
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal (23-27).
The imagery describes the hills and the open space. The speaker returns to the repetition of negative words where the poem began, saying "nothing" twice in a row in line 25. The "great space" that the speaker sees is occupied by sound, which is compared through simile to the "Beating and beating" of "silversmiths." Significantly, the smiths are working on "an intractable metal," which suggests the sound is futile.
The poem as a whole is written in free verse with no regular rhyme scheme and features enjambment, which is when one line continues into the next without a pause (like a comma or a period). All of Plath's literary devices work to convey the speaker's observations and thoughts about the blackberries and the surrounding landscape.
droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to those described by the previous educator, Plath uses numerous literary devices to convey her message in this poem. The use of blank verse, and within it, enjambment (the continuation of a sentence or phrase over several lines), serves to emphasize the sheer endlessness of the blackberries:

Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices.
Plath heightens this effect with repetition of the word "blackberries" in the first stanza and then, subsequently, "berries." Her descriptions of the numerous places in which the berries are found—"nothing but blackberries," "blackberries on either side," "blackberries / Big as the ball of my thumb"—could also be described as enumeratio, or the technique of listing occurrences or elements in order to add to a sense that they are multitudinous.
There are also some excellently evocative metaphors in this poem, as when Plath describes the choughs, a type of bird, as "bits of burnt paper wheeling in a brown sky." Later, she describes the flies hanging heavy upon a blackberry bush as "hanging...their wing panes in a Chinese screen."
The final line of the poem leaves the reader with a clear sensory image of the "great space / Of white and pewter lights," with its "din like silversmiths / Beating and beating at an intractable metal." This simile again suggests a sense of the interminable, an idea which is also central, in a different sense, to the first stanza of the poem.
mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the room provided, I can at least cover a couple techniques to get you started.

1.  Personification, which is giving inanimate objects human-like qualities and actions. The sea wind "slapping its phantom laundry in my face".  Laundry is also a metaphor for the wind's smell, its moist warmth.  The hills "are too green and sweet to have tasted salt" is more personification.  Also, the waves "beating and beating at an intractable metal" (this phrase is also a simile; she says the waves are like a blacksmith).  The bird calls "protesting, protesting", flies that "believed in heaven."  The berries give her a "blood sisterhood; they must love me/They accomodate themselves". 

2.  Imagery, which is using descriptive phrases to bring the 5 senses to life.  She uses great words to help us feel like we are there, experiencing her walk.  "A sea somewhere at the end of it, heaving" describes the full, rich sound of the ocean waves.  "Blackberries big as the ball of my thumb...fat with blue-red juices" is a great image of juicy, ripe blackberries.  The black birds overhead fly up in "cacophonous flocks-bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky".  Cacophonous is a great word to describe the startled squawking of a flock of birds, and to describe their image as burnt paper wheeling brings to mind perfectly that image.

I hope those two can get you started!  Good luck!

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Blackberrying

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