Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath Essay
Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath both approach death and ageing in their poems. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem about blackberry picking. It has a meaning to it. It explains in his words how things age and die. I shall refer another Seamus Heaney poem and two of Sylvia Plath’s poems to “Blackberry Picking. ” Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking” is about a child’s point of view of how everything ages. We know it is a child’s point of few by parts of the poem “our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s”. With these five words it can be noticed that the poem is situated in the 1920’s, as Bluebeard was a child’s fictional character from pirate stories.
Also, it being a pirate character, it can be said that it is allegedly a boy’s point of view. Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking” has many words in which he uses to describe the berries. Some of these words are parts of the human body. Such as “its flesh was sweet” and “summer’s blood was in it” or “Like a plate of eyes. ” All these personification words show that Seamus is trying to refer his poem to the life of humans. “For a full week, the berries would ripen. ” This quote is found on the second line of the first stanza.
As it is very close to the beginning, Seamus, again, is trying to tell the reader he is describing the life of humans through the life of blackberries. The quote means that the blackberries are at their most active part of their life, like when a person is a teenager ‘ripening’ into an adult. Another similarity to a growing human can also be found once again in the first stanza: You ate the first one and its flesh was sweet Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it The first line says, “flesh was sweet” this represents the blackberry being pure. If we think of this blackberry as a human, it can be said the person is pure, a good person.
In the second line the “summer’s blood” is a metaphor. The “summer” can be thought of as energetic and happiness and the “blood” as the juice of the berry or the soul of a person. Overall these two lines represent a happy, energetic, pure soul. These are the type of people Heaney’s poem is based upon. The first stanza describes the berries/people being joyful but the story soon changes in the second stanza. A bad blackberry is found “But when the bath was filled we found a fur” and then described as covered in “A rat-grey fungus” which represents disease in a person. Disease is thought of when Seamus describes the colour of the fungus.
He says it is a rat-grey colour. When rats are thought of disease comes to mind. This is the link between the berry and the person. The berry has gone rotten and so the person has got a disease, the ‘disease’ of ageing as acknowledged by the ‘rat-grey’ colour. The berries grow to be diseased soon after taken from their life source “The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush” and were not pure souls any more “the sweet flesh would turn sour”. It all then becomes the child’s disappointment as he then finds out it was all unnecessary effort as all good things come to an end: 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. Seamus Heaney’s trying to put across to the reader that nothing stays pure forever, everyone and thing turn out to be unhealthy and dies that way. Another poem by Heaney is “Mid-Term Break”. It is about a child for a second time like “Blackberry Picking”. This is recognised by the first stanza “I sat all morning in the college sick bay” – he is a child still in education. The child once again gives his point of view of death like “Blackberry Picking” although the theme of ageing is not spoken of until the very last line.
Heaney presents how a child approaches death with fascination, as the child is giving an exact account with as much detail as feasible. He gives accurate times of day throughout the poem and what occurs at each “At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home. ” and “At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived”. This shows us much of the child’s fascination, as though he is writing a diary of the circumstances. The poem exhibits how other age groups and relatives act in response towards death “I met my father crying” shows how the middle aged react and how they react when they lose one of their own, as it is the boy’s brother who has died.
The male relatives treating it with their utmost respect – “old men standing to shake my hand”. Babies reactions are out of place as they are unaware of the tragedy – “The baby cooed and laughed in the pram”. These are all many categories of society’s expectations of how to deal with death. The baby’s reactions go against society’s expectations, which make the baby out of place. Heaney has tried to put all these expectations under one roof. Upon seeing his dead brother for the first time in six weeks he gives an account of him as though he were a forensic scientist:
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple, He lay in the four foot box as in his cot. No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. No real grief can be felt in these three lines. The boy is trying to conceal his emotional side. He is trying to lock it away. Just like in the third stanza: When I came in, and I was embarrassed By old men standing up to shake my hand This can be linked with society’s expectations also. The old men standing to shake his hand as though it is the moral thing to do when in fact the boy does not wish for any of the attention.
It is not until the end of the poem that we understand of the child’s emotional side being unlocked, his disappointment and grief let out. Just like the last line of “Blackberry Picking” where the child’s disappointment is at its most “Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not”. In “Mid-Term Break” the final line cuts the poem off and Heaney leaves us to reflect ourselves on the sense of loss, suddenness of death and the blow of the family. You are also left feeling the boy’s memories and sadness of his lost brother: A four foot box, a foot for every year. Blackberrying” by Sylvia Plath has many similarities to Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking”. They are both to do with picking blackberries and gathering them in containers “They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle,” and Heaney’s poem saying “Sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots”. Also, both poems come to a disappointing end. Both poems use dark rich colours to express the blackberries, as Plath speaks of them being “blue-red” and Heaney describes them as “glossy purple”. Like Heaney’s version Plath speaks of the Blackberries metaphorically as blood but calls it the juice:
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers. I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me. They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides. Just like the blackberries in Heaney’s poem, which sacrificed themselves for him, Plath’s blackberries take a noble death for her “I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me. ” Plath is showing that the blackberries have generously sacrificed themselves for her and feels that they must love her as she uses the word ‘accommodate’.
This single word gives a warm feeling as though the blackberries were eager to go with her. Even more so when they flatten their sides so they do not take up to much room in her milkbottle. Different to Heaney’s poem, Plath’s blackberries have a mind of their own, a free will to set out with her. The blackberry picker is walking on her own through the lane of blackberries, which is plentiful and loving. In the second stanza though she sees one bush of blackberries “I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies”.
When expressed as flies it gives the feeling that Plath is about to tell the other face of the poem. This face of the poem is not the happy side but the death of the berries. The last stanza now has no blackberries spoken of. All is spoken of is the sea and the wind. She speaks of these two as cruel evil elements of the world: From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me, Slapping its phantom laundry in my face. The word ‘phantom’ makes you consider of an evil, ugly supernatural creature of which has no good cause: Of white and pewter lights, and din like silversmiths
Beating and beating at an intractable metal. Describing the sea like this makes you think of noise pollution. To much noise and of a rough sea tide. From the first stanza speaking of plentiful of blackberries to none at the sea in the last stanza can help make a conclusion to what the poem is regarding. Plath is trying to explain the blackberries as comforting people in life helping you and loving you and when you keep walking in life these all fade away. At first they are everywhere you can see but when you become older, walk further down the lane, you soon loose touch to all of these and come to an end.
The end, or death of her, in her point of view is hideous. Her ending has come at the wrong time as the wind is not calm but is a ‘phantom’ and the sea at the end of her road is noisy and rough. Like Heaney’s poem the end of her journey has become a let-down. Sylvia Plath wrote another poem about ageing and how it draws closer so fast. Another poem of disappointment like Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking”. It is the mirror’s version of a woman growing into an old lady. It starts with the mirror introducing itself. Calling itself ‘I’ and the ‘she’ as the owner of the mirror.
The mirror only reflects what it sees “I have no preconceptions. ” Along with just the truth: Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike. I am not cruel, only truthful – Sylvia Plath has based this poem upon herself. She is trying to receive an outsider’s opinion of herself growing old. The first stanza describes the mirror. The second introduces the woman. The mirror sees details at a different time rate than us as things flicker to it “But it flickers/Faces and darkness separate us over and over. ” The mirror sees everything at a faster rate than a human being.
In the second stanza the mirror becomes a lake “Now I am a lake” and talks of the woman facing the candles or the moon “She turns to those liars, the candles or the moon. ” The mirror calls them liars, as they do not give out true light. Only ‘half’ light so they do not show all imperfections of the woman’s face. This way, the woman gets to hide her true age. Each time the woman sees herself she sees an old woman. This reminds her of being once young. This upsets the woman “She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands” It is not until the last two lines of the poem that true meaning of the poem occur:
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman Rises towards her day after day, like a terrible fish. According to these two lines the woman has become old at a fast pace. The word ‘drowned’ gives an emotion that her youth has died agonisingly. Which is why in the second stanza it starts off telling us it is a lake as her youth has drowned and died within the mirror. The old woman she has become is repulsive, partly why she has been expressed as a terrible fish. When thinking of a terrible fish a scaly revolting one is thought of which is not attractive. This must mean the old woman is not attractive either.
Also Plath includes some contrasts between light and darkness and contrasts between love and dislike. She uses these to make it more interesting and strengthens the poem. It makes it more emotional. The contrasts also connect with the idea of the poem; being young (good) and turning old (bad) e. g light (good), darkness (bad), love (good) and dislike (bad. ) In conclusion all of the four poems are about disappointment in life. How everything in life starts on a good quality side but always seems to turn bad. This seems to be the imagery of each poem; the contrast between good and bad.
The poets Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath try to give an imagery to the reader that all life becomes depressing according to most of their own experiences. As most of the poems do seem to be from their own experiences. Even “Mirror” can be said that it is Plath’s own experience of looking in the mirror everyday. “Blackberrying” could be a metaphor of Plath loosing her loved ones. Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking” could be his own experience of others lying to him about growing old and dying. “Mid-Term Break” could be the loss of a loved one when Heaney was younger; just like Plath’s “Blackberrying”.