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(Poetry for Students)

Lines 1–9
In this opening stanza, Plath’s speaker introduces readers to the scene and the task at hand— picking blackberries in a woods near the sea. In the first line she strongly establishes the isolation of the setting, emphasizing that “nobody” is in the lane and repeating the word “nothing.” Through the use of personification, Plath depicts the berries with human characteristics, as though “peopling” the scene with blackberries. They are associated with the speaker’s thumb, they are likened to eyes, and they “squander” their juices. By accumulating these details, Plath prepares the reader for an unusual but intriguing bond between the blackberries and the speaker: they have a “blood sisterhood” and the berries “love” her. In this stanza Plath also introduces the image of a hook, in the curves of the blackberry “alley” or lane. She also introduces the image of the sea, although as of yet it remains unseen (it is “somewhere at the end” of the lane). In the course of the poem Plath will develop these images as the speaker is “hooked,” drawn forward down the curving path to the mysterious (because unseen) and somewhat threatening sea.

Lines 10–18
In this stanza Plath expands the setting to include the sky and other living creatures—birds and flies. Choughs are dark birds, related to crows. They are presented here as vaguely ominous, sug- gestive of death. They are described as being “in black” rather than simply “black,” as though they are dressed in black clothing, as if in mourning. They are compared to “bits of burnt paper,” like ashes blown from a fire; and they caw in “protest” at some unnamed offense. Their noise seems to break the stillness of the scene—theirs is the “only voice.” Significantly, the black coloring of the birds recalls the blackness of the berries—and anticipates the blackness of the flies in line 15. In that line the speaker says of a bush of over-ripe blackberries that “it is a bush of flies,” suggesting both that the bush is filled with berries that look like flies and that the bush is literally covered in flies. Associations with death occur here too, as the blackberries are depicted as rotting and covered in flies. Plath, then, has established links between the blackberries, the choughs, and the flies through their black coloring and suggestions of death. Looking back, lines 7 and 8, in which the berries “bleed” on the speaker and establish a “sisterhood” with her, includes the speaker in this network of associations. The suggestion of death is given a positive aspect, however, with the reference to heaven in line 17. For the flies, at least, the field of blackberry bushes is heaven. The “honey-feast” (and, perhaps the “milkbottle” of line 9) is reminiscent of the labelling of paradise as “the land of milk and honey.” Line 14, with its description of the “high, green meadows” that are “glowing as if lit from within,” similarly evokes a beautiful, golden world. It is also worth noting that this world is a world of nature, away from people.

The sea is again mentioned in this stanza, but it remains mysterious and distant—so distant that the speaker doubts it will “appear at all.” But the path again “hooks” the speaker, drawing her closer to the sea, away from the blackberries: “One more hook, and the berries and bushes end” (line 18).

Lines 19–27 This stanza establishes a series of contrasts between the fields of blackberry bushes and the seaside. Emerging from an idyllic world into a harsher reality, the speaker is buffeted by the wind blowing off the ocean. The wind “tunnels” at her, and “slaps” her face. The hills she is leaving behind are “sweet” (recalling the honey sweetness of the berries) and what lies ahead is salty (the sea). As if being herded (the “blackberry alley” has turned into a “sheep path”), she follows the trail between two hills. She’s “hooked”...

(The entire section is 1,032 words.)