Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346

In “Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell, the speaker of the poem describes the sensual experience of picking ripened blackberries from a bush and eating them.

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At first glance, the poem seems to deal with the thematic idea of pleasure. The way in which the speaker describes the feel and taste of the blackberries conveys his delight. He asserts the idea that simple pleasures in life are supremely satisfying, such as high September ritual.

However, upon closer examination of Kinnell’s diction, the reader can see that the speaker associates the blackberries with words. The speaker compares the overripe berries that fall easily into his mouth with “many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps” of words, such as “strengths.” Thus, the blackberries represent the physical manifestation of difficult-to-pronounce yet sonically rich words. The speaker, who one might associate with the poet himself, finds pleasure in both eating the ripened berries and saying these “lump” words, which he comes to associate with each other.

The Satisfaction of Words

If one were to discuss a thematic statement regarding this association, one might discuss the way in which words can be just as satisfying and pleasurable as delicious fruit. In fact, the speaker echoes this message in line 12 when he says he likes to “squeeze,” “squinch,” and “splurge” the blackberries. The alliterative quality of this line mirrors the “lumps” from line 10, suggesting that the blackberries almost become words as he eats them. A poet’s sustenance is language itself and the ways it can be manipulated to his delight.

Connection With Nature

When the speaker describes the “black language” of nature, he is expressing the relationship between himself and the mysterious creative power of nature itself; just as the bushes make the berries, the poet writes his poems. This introduces another possible thematic idea, that of art. The poet delights in his ability to use the mysterious power of words to create art and affect the reader. Nature’s art is the multitude of beautiful or pleasurable things it produces, while man’s art is his ability to use nature for his own benefit.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

With a Whitmanesque receptivity to experience, Kinnell transmits his wonder and delight in nature’s creative power, and his own, in “Blackberry Eating.” The speaker, frank about his love of nature, provides an idealized picture of rural life by describing a fall morning’s experience that he implies he has repeated many times. The experience is not an end in itself, however, but acts as a sounding board for a more personal phenomenon: the eruption of words into his consciousness to be manipulated into their most effective mode.

“Blackberry Eating” concerns the origin of creative power, a playful presentation of the creative process as evidence of what Andrew Taylor has called the positive aspect of darkness that appears throughout Kinnell’s work. This positive aspect, writes Taylor, “is the nonself, the unconscious, the preconscious, the unpredictable source of vitality, the Mystery.”

Kinnell’s mysterious “source of vitality” here touches the speaker in the form of inspiration, in compact words that bring with them a fullness of experience that awakens the speaker’s senses to a mysterious void that lies just beyond the knowable. The void, however, does not loom in its “silent, startled, icy” blackness as a pit of destruction, but becomes, through its dramatic association with the extreme sensory pleasures of blackberry eating in the wild, a communicator of a life-affirming bias in the inexplicable design of the universe.

From its opening clause, “Blackberry Eating” reveals its Romantic underpinnings. Its form, that of a nature lyric replete with intimate observations of the beauty and bounty of the wild, displays Romanticism in the exaltation of detail and in the relationship imposed by its comparison of the speaker’s sensory interaction with the physical world to his spiritual interaction with his own inner world. The influence of Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke on Kinnell’s poetic vision shines through in this poem’s organic vehicle. Although Rilke’s emphasis is on transformation and Kinnell’s is on empathetic participation, both poets use contact with the earth to penetrate the surface of things in order to achieve an understanding of the life/death cycle.

When Kinnell writes of the blackberry stalks “knowing the black art of blackberry-making” and later describes “the silent, startled, icy, black language of blackberry-eating,” he is hinting at a metaphysical philosophy of a kind of Jungian collective unconscious that employs sensory, or even sensual, experience as its messengers. In Walking Down the Stairs (1978), Kinnell comments that “language itself comes from the deepest place, from sex.” “Blackberry Eating” introduces this “deepest place” in a wider, yet still sensory and sensual context, and invites one to realize such ecstasy for oneself.

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