Blackberry Eating Summary
"Blackberry Eating," written by award-winning American poet Galway Kinnell, was published in 1980 as part of the collection Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (Mariner Books, 1980). Kinnell was born in Rhode Island and spent much of his life in Vermont. He was poet laureate for the state of Vermont for several of his years in residence there. Himself an alumnus of Princeton University, Kinnell taught creative writing at NYU.
The poem is 14 lines long; however, it is not a sonnet, as one would expect of a poem of this length. The poet begins with a first-person speaker ("I") who is picking blackberries in late September. The first two lines not only establish the idyllic, pastoral setting, they also subvert the reader's expectations when he describes a blackberry itself as black.
The poet also makes use of assonance (repetitive vowel sounds) and alliteration (repetition of the same letter at the beginning of consecutive words). The speaker next notices the thorns on the blackberry bush, which he terms a "penalty for knowing the black art of blackberry-making." The speaker descries how the blackberries fall "unbidden" into his mouth when he holds the branch in the air.
Here, about halfway through the poem, comes the major comparison: blackberries to words. The poet compares blackberries to words, specifically for how they fall onto his tongue. The sample words he gives for the purpose of comparison are "strengths" and "squinched"(an unusual word and so an interesting choice on the part of the poet). The poet justifies this comparison by insisting that the words are "many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps." This comparison at once returns the visual of the blackberry and also implies that words have physical substance. The final line repeats the "late September" temporal designation, thus importing to the poem a sort of ring composition.
Kinnell acknowledges Walt Whitman as one of his major influences, which is clear from the natural imagery in "Blackberry Eating." Kinnell, too, is especially concerned with the versatility of words and the power of language in general. The poem is somewhat self-referential, insofar as it reflects on the power of writing itself. The poem takes great pleasure in manipulating words, such as by "squeezing[ing]," "squelch[ing]" and "splurg[ing]." Here, too, the poet also forces the the word "splurge" to act in a transitive fashion.