Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Pleasure of Words
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. The poem deals 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 this “late September” ritual.
In the second half of the poem, it is revealed 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 and squinched.” Thus, the blackberries represent the physical manifestation of sonically rich, alliterative, “peculiar” words. The speaker, who may be the poet himself, finds pleasure in both eating the ripened berries and saying these “many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps” of words, which he comes to associate with the berries.
This association highlights the way in which words can be just as satisfying and pleasurable to consume as delicious fruit. In fact, the speaker emphasizes this message in line 12, when he says he likes to “squeeze,” “squinch,” and “splurge” the words, or possibly the blackberries—the line between the two begins to blur. The alliterative quality of this line suggests that the blackberries almost become words as the speaker eats them. A poet’s sustenance is language itself and the ways in which it can be manipulated to the poet’s, and the reader’s, delight.
Art and Nature
When the speaker describes the “black language” of nature in “late September,” he is expressing the relationship between himself and the mysterious creative power of nature itself; just as the bushes make berries, language makes words, and the poet makes poems. This association links nature directly to art: the poet delights in his ability to use the mysterious power of words to create art and affect the reader, just as the blackberry bushes use their own “black art” to create fruit. Nature’s art is the multitude of beautiful or pleasurable things it produces, while the poet’s art is the ability to use the fruits of language to create beautiful or pleasurable pieces of writing. Language and nature are both treated as sensual experiences in the poem: the speaker experiences words as berry-like “lumps” which he “squeeze[s], squinch[es] open, and splurge[s] well,” just as he might squeeze, squinch, and splurge the blackberries. Likewise, he feels the weight and texture of both berries and words on his tongue and experiences both as “icy” and “black.”
The enjoyment of nature and the enjoyment of language eventually blend together and become inextricable from each other in this poem, suggesting that poetic inspiration is inextricably tied to the natural world. This was certainly true for Galway Kinnell, whose work is often compared to that of the Romantic poets of the nineteenth century. As an artistic movement, Romanticism placed a high value on the individual’s experience of the sublime beauty of nature. This ethos comes across in the rapturous language of “Blackberry Eating,” which celebrates the speaker’s solitary delight in eating ripe blackberries on a late September morning—an activity that is almost more at home in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth.