by Seamus Heaney

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What do the blackberries symbolize in "Blackberry-Picking"?

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In "Blackberry-Picking," the blackberries represent the innocence and beauty of youth. When they decay they remind the reader that youth is temporary, no matter how much we want to cling to it. They also represent the power of nature and how humans cannot control how it changes.

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In Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry-Picking,” the speaker is thinking back to when he was an innocent child, and he and other children would eagerly pick as many blackberries as they could carry. He describes these ripe berries as “glossy” and “sweet” and describes how the taste made them all “lust” for picking more. These ripe berries represent the innocence, beauty, and hopeful naivety of youth.

But when the children would bring the blackberries home, they would quickly turn to rot. There was nothing the children could do to stop this decay, and they were quite upset. Heaney writes,

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

The unpreventable decay of the blackberries is similar to the aging process. No matter how much we might want to, we cannot hold on to our innocent, beautiful youth. It is interesting to note that the speaker says he kept hoping that maybe the berries would not rot, even though he knew they would. This is similar to the way humans often forget about their own mortality or work hard to preserve their youth, even though they know that aging (and the responsibilities and hardships that come with it) is inevitable.

The blackberries also represent the power of nature. As much as we might want to preserve the beauty of nature at a particular moment, we cannot control changes in weather or the decay of plants and other animals.

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