Saturday, November 13, 2010

Poetic Thoughts

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for picking.
… We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking, too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Poems 1965-1975, by Seamus Heaney

A friend suggested I might like the poems of Mr. Heaney, but it’s been years since I read any books of poetry. I began reading the book she recommended as a kind of a politeness, but not expecting much of value, nor of interest. I found to my surprise that I quickly found not only interest, but heart. The words described things so well that I could see and taste them, and they opened my mind to so many other things. The above poem was one of the first I read in that book, the book I purchased but expected to quickly relegate to the shelf. I’m slowly savoring, and teasing myself in anticipation, as I read the rest.

So much of life is like the blueberries, as described above. I read of the blueberries tasting and smelling so lush and wonderful, springtime, growth, and a new happiness, and I think of so many things of life that I’ve felt like that. A new baby, a new friend, a new love, each new happiness a new joy, something that I wanted to pick and preserve and never have go away, the feeling of joy so divine. It’s something I thought I would never grow tired of, and the feelings would never grow old. But perhaps those are things which I just wished for, because they did.

I thought of the new job, the new book, or the new hobby, each was something delightful, challenging yet bringing joy with the discovery of seemingly never-ending newness, twists and turns --- and rewards, personal rewards of satisfaction, the ones that no money could ever buy. Those first hours, days, and months are times I wished could never end, and would never cease repeating. But over time, I found they did.

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Seamus’ poem shows us the joy of springtime and newness, and the inevitability of autumn. Whether we wish it or not, on some things a rat-grey fungus will grow. All things in life have a season; nothing in life stands still, no matter how much we would like to capture and retain the moment. Pictures capture what we saw at one time, but they can never capture that feeling when we first saw some things, first tasted their newness and their beauty. Oh how we wish it could be otherwise.

I once read how our newness in God should be like the first explorers who came out of the wood and first caught sight of the Grand Canyon. No travelogue, no pictures, no videos to taint their expectations, but just pure awe at the unexpected majesty that they saw. That should be our continual relationship with God, ever growing, ever new, ever awesome. I like that concept, but I remember the blueberries. Things can never be as I’d like them; they can never stay the same.

Therein, I think, lies the problem.

There are so many wonderful things in our life which we would like to remain the same, but they can never be so. Nothing stays the same, except God. All life on earth is an ever-flowing river through time. As much as we’d like to stop at some scenic point and never leave, that is not our choice, we must move on. We can swim mightily against the current, but at some point we must tire, and then losing the battle becomes just that much more difficult to absorb – we lost despite all our efforts, and we feel somewhat of a failure. Seamus’ poem concluded with a key truism: I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not. He does not end his poem in disaster or in sorrow, but merely a wistful thought. From there the reader might imply the next line: “And next year I’d feel the same.” You see, Mr. Heaney doesn’t end his thought in despair, but looks at it as just being a thought, a pleasant memory of an event which had an end. But next year will come spring again. The end of one pleasantness does not mean the eternal end of pleasantness, even if at the moment all you see and smell is rot. But you, as a thinking and faith-filled person KNOW what will happen in the future, even if it seems at the moment far off. There will be another springtime.

And so, despite the smell of today, we know there will still be new jobs, new books, and new hobbies, each as exciting or --- pray God --- even more exciting than the last. And we will see new babies, new friends, and perhaps even new loves, and the old ones will merely be pictures, which evoke strong memories of good times. But in our minds, we KNOW of future good times, and we can expect them. No matter how dull or sad life may be now, you will know that you will again taste the sweet fruits of life, and its flesh (will be) sweet, like thickened wine.

Do not be anxious. God has promised you many wonderful things; you have barely begun to anticipate, much less see them, as yet. But He promised. And you will live to see them, to smell them, and to taste their sweetness.

He promised.


  1. Heaney's poem reminds me too of Christ's admonition to Mary Magdalene: "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended." Trying to hold that which cannot be held is a chronic problem in life, and the source of much of my self-made misery. Better to learn to savor life when I can, letting things and experiences pass when they must and, as you point out, remember that the best is yet to come--and it will not pass away. Lovely, comforting post.

  2. Nice, both what you wrote and S.H. Perhaps you've read Robert Penn Warren?

  3. Thank you for your comments. A clarifying note, however: perhaps I should have noted that the world does not remain the same, rather than referring to our life, for certainly they are two separate things to consider, us and the world. While we must accept the world's changing, WE have some control over our changes. We have a will. We can will to love, and never stop. We can will to forgive, regardless of the pain. And we can will to forget, especially those hurts which would haunt us, if we let them.

    Yes, Barb, the best is yet to come, but we, even now, have a hand in forming it.

    Re the works of Robert Penn Warren, kam? Well, of course I've read All The King's Men, and I believe The Cave and At Heaven's Gate also. But his poetry, no, I don't believe I have. Although poetry has much to teach a person about life in this world, if he wishes to learn, at my age I think I've learned enough about life here, and now I wish to learn things about eternal life. While I still read way too many novels, in place of boring TV movies, I read many books and meditations about eternal life --- I still have much to learn about there, and a decreasing amount of time available.

  4. I love BHG's comment-excellent point! Daughter of the King has a recent post about Mary Magdalene holding on to Jesus which explains my long held confusion about why he would say that to her...

    The poem was beautiful and I certainly felt as though I was in it, experiencing it firsthand, as I have a large blackberry patch in my backyard and love the first tastes of that thickened wine flavor! Years ago, I also had the experience of seeing those precious berries turn to rot unless I'd freeze them quickly. Now, I hardly get to taste them because my children run out to pick them and eat them fresh off the bushes as they ripen. They're healthiest that way so I don't mind so much if I miss out, knowing that all too soon, the kids will move on with their lives away from home and I'll have all those berries to manage before they rot. It's funny how everything changes with time and there is always something we can enjoy side by side with something we mourn.

  5. I used to have raspberry bushes growing just inside the fence at the side of my house. I rarely ate them; the neighbor's small children reached through the fence (and one even climbed over and got very 'picked', much to her mother's chagrin.) But then the neighbors moved on, and I didn't care as much for the bushes, and they died.

    Last month, new young neighbors gave birth to their first, a beautiful girl. I told them that in a couple of years I will plant raspberry bushes for her to pick from -- and any siblings she may have.

    Life goes on.