The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Blackberry Eating” is a short poem in free verse, its fourteen lines (in one stanza) all parts of one compound-complex sentence. One-sentence poems are not uncommon for Galway Kinnell. The title plunges into the immediacy of the context of the poem by focusing on an action as subject. The poem is written in the first person. There is no indication that the speaker’s persona is someone other than the poet, so the poem fits into the classic tradition of lyric poetry wherein the poet directly informs the reader about a personal experience.

A subject that is clearly in the realm of the ordinary is the starting point of “Blackberry Eating.” Kinnell introduces the activity of picking blackberries by grounding the experience in a particular mood, love, and a particular season, autumn. Autumn suggests the time of harvest, when the prospect of impending death weighs heavily on the mind. No drape of melancholy is allowed here, though; the enthusiasm of love keeps it pushed aside.

A descriptive series of words, a vibrant picture of blackberries begging to be picked, helps the reader see, smell, and feel the clusters of fruit. A blending of wilderness and civilization follows when the speaker links his exploration of nature with humankind’s regularity and demands: The blackberries are for breakfast.

When Kinnell draws attention to the prickly stalks, he focuses on the significance of small details and comments on the mystical...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Its fourteen-line length demonstrates that “Blackberry Eating” is an unrhymed, free-verse sonnet in the style of Robert Lowell. The strict sonnet forms specify definite patterns of meter and rhyme but can also be interpreted on the basis of spirit and passion. The poem’s first eight lines, or octave, consistent with the Italian sonnet form, serve as an introduction of the theme, developing the theme in the direction of the sensory experience of blackberry eating. Also true to form, the poem’s last six lines, or sestet, introduce a new development or application of the proposition, wherein words are substituted for berries as sensory objects. This flow and ebb are sonnetlike, even though none of the other aspects demanded by the sonnet form is present.

The controlling image of the poem is a simile: the comparison of blackberries and words. Each element of the simile, however, has a specific definition. The blackberries are “fat, overripe, icy,” and the words are “many-lettered and one-syllabled.” In the first instance, Kinnell uses a series of somewhat hyperbolic adjectives to enhance the reader’s appreciation of the sensate function of the blackberries. The “words” of the simile, restricted by Kinnell’s imposition of rules, are heightened in meaning as well, since they directly relate to “strengths” and “squinched” by being the kind of words that sound “strong” because they “squinch” their few vowels among an...

(The entire section is 417 words.)