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Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath


Within the poem Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath, she positions herself as the lonely walker and speaker, self-consciously communicating with and reacting to nature yet all the while assuming that at her worst this may cause her immediate surroundings to justifiably consume her (by the overwhelming sea ) and that at best her surroundings are malciously indifferent. The theme of Blackberrying, on the surface at least , is of place. Aside from this theme of place and some regularity of structure there are other panoramic factors in this poem. Most striking is the underlying sense of threat and the images of willing death which are anticipated. Plath uses imagery, metaphor, simile and other many elements of poetry in this poem. The imagery is used mostly in the poem to stimulate our senses and recall our imaginations and experiences.


The progress of the walk in Blackberrying does not describe the journeys outset, yet there is a defined middle and end. There is a definitive purpose namely to relish in and gather blackberries. The three nine-line stanzas within the work fulfil three detached purposes-the first to describe the berries and the luscious sensations experienced in their harvest; the second to define the environment and to point to failings which can exist when the berries become overdeveloped; the third to terminate the journey and switch the mood from one of fascination and wonder to stark negative reality. Blackberrying as a term exists in Medieval English. It means going toward death and has the additional negative connotation of death without salvation (hell).


The poem opens with a scenario dominated by blackberries so that we gain an impression of delicious blackness everywhere-nothing , nothing but blackberries. (Line 1) The concept of the twisting lane is created by Plath using an image of hooks-bends which the solitary berry-harvester, the poet, cannot see past. We are told the sea is somewhere at the end of it (Line 4)and we are exposed to the first nuances of limbo and hopelessness when we learn that it is heaving (Line 4)-an apparently strange word to choose to describe the unseen conjured up sea on a windy but sunny September day. Perhaps, even at this early stage of the poem the poet finds the thought of the sea which will greet her at the end of the lane as threatening. Yet it is the berries that demand the poets and our attention as they are described with highly illustrative similes- Big as the ball of my thumb , and dumb as eyes/Ebon in the hedges, fat/ With blue-red juices. (Lines 5-7) The blackberries are not hostile or indifferent. An interesting metaphor in Blackberrying is in the line, These they squander on my fingers. I had not asked for such a blood sister hood. (Lines 7-8) It is as if the juice from the blackberries is their blood, almost as if they are sacrificing it. It then goes on to describe her as she imagines them inviting her into their sorority. She has pricked her fingers on the thorns of blackberries- when her blood mixes with the juices of the blackberries it is as if she has been blood bonded into their sorority, yet she has not asked for this.





The wind features prominently and is represented as a vigorous force which, while not uniformly hostile , is dominant, uncontrollable and yet influential upon the poet and the natural territory in which she has placed herself. In the second stanza we are shown an image of noisy crows circling and protesting , protesting against the ominous presence of the sea which will shortly be encountered. (Line 10) As the speaker describes the birds in the wind as Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky their protesting voice causes her to remark-I do not think the sea will appear at all.(Lines 1-1) Then the image of lusciousness is compromised as the poet encounters the corruption of excess as she comes to-One bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,/Hanging their blue-green bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen./ The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.(Lines 15-17) The cheerful mood of the walker which seemed to exist at the commencement of the poem declines as the undertones of decay and nothingness begin to take over the poets outlook. The reader is left unsettled because of the image of flies, which are usually seen around decay and death.


The third stanza has the colorful image of laundry slapping her in the face and a mechanical image of silversmiths working with an intractable metal. (Line-0) These images are after the beauty of the natural images. There is a strong image of the path, which ends at the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock, but the view is of nothing, nothing but a great space. (Line 1) emphasizes the empty and bleak mood of the poem. This is a connection to the nothing sentence at the beginning of the poem. The magnificence of the se is an example of the sublime because of the feeling that there is something terrible there. The beating and beating produces a din that doesnt seem quite natural. (Lines 6-7)As the lane in the poem ends, the wind, becomes more aggressive until at last the speaker is faced with the all-threatening, all-consuming sea which is everywhere. We feel her hysteria is not far away-her sense of hopelessness, although perhaps temporarily appeased by blackberry-picking, has returned with a vengeance.


Entirely, the central image of the 1st stanza is of nature and the blackberries that love and are friendly to her. In the nd stanza, the image is of birds and flies that are protesting. The sea is the central image of the rd stanza with the wind slapping and the sea beating.


The language Plath uses in Blackberrying is colourful as she creates wonderful images. The repetition of blackberries, in the first stanza together with big, ball, ebon, blue-red, and blood all support the image of a profusion of berries. Plath also uses color to cement the mood-the berries are ebon, juices are blue-red, flies are bluegreen, the sea is white and pewter under orange rock. And further, give ear to the linked consonance of green, panes, screen, stunned, heaven wave-rhythms scored throughout the poem, so that we know the oceanic has been inside us all along. Also the language is both rhythmic and lyrical. It is almost as if the voice of the speaker reaches out to the reader. The poem comes directly form the speaker and she is characterized by what she is saying. Plaths morbid fascination with death and how to attain it flow from the poem as if in speech. It makes it easier for one to comprehend death, and that the will to die can be a hidden desire in man himself.


The mood of Blackberrying begins buoyantly and continues, in spite of some sinister undertones, with much optimism to show colorful and vivid descriptions of the nature of the late summer lonely lane and its luscious, if flawed, fruits. This airy positive view suddenly collapses within the last stanza into a form of gloomy certainty with the swift discontinuation of the lane and its replacement by intimidating images of the nihilistic cliffs and ominous oblivion of the sea-this could be referred to as a death image.


There is a path in Sylvia Plaths Blackberrying that the speaker takes to the sea, where poems end is matched to lands end, where we stand enchanted by the rhythms. This path in Blackberrying is, a path in progress. Intractable-by inviting the substance in, by letting it repeat, bear out the raw matter of itself. She has found a way to tract,-it draws, it connects, it manages, it discusses itself. Like most other good poems, it is about poetry, whatever else is at issue. The intractability sends us back, in search of what matters, though the matter itself seems resistant to meaning.


Blackberrying tries to celebrate the fruitfulness of nature-the temporarily comfortable yet despair-prone poetic voice being abruptly overwhelmed by a sense of pointlessness and ruin at the end of the piece. On first reading Blackberrying with its delightful images of innocent activity during a late summer day, I shared the poets own disappointment as her short walk came to an end and she was swamped by a sudden feeling of hopelessness so that I found myself wishing she had just turned her back on the sea and retraced her steps while picking blackberries this time on the left mainly.





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