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Blackberry Eating by Galway Kinnell

“Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell is a poem about the simple act of eating ripe blackberries in late autumn, precisely in September. Kinnell evokes all the senses ranging from the sense of touching to tasting in order to provide a full overview of savoring the fruit. It starts with taking a walk outside in the morning. Then, the process includes feeling the “black art” and enjoying it to the fullest until one feels saturated. While reading the poem, it feels as if mother nature is feeding the speaker with her hands.

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Blackberry Eating
by Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

- from Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980)
Analysis of Blackberry Eating by Galway Kinnell


Summary

Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating” begins with a speaker taking a solitary walk in late September seeking ripe blackberries. He walks until he comes across a blackberry tree. Upon feeling the fat, overripe, and cold bunch with his hands, he tries to think about the “black art” of making blackberries, a secret only known by the tree or mother nature. The prickly branches, he thinks, are a result of knowing this secret art. He stands among the trees, lifts the stalks to his mouth, and waits for the ripe ones to fall directly to his tongue. Then he squeezes the blackberries, squinches them open in his mouth, and splurges them well in order to make the most of “blackberry-eating in late September.”

Structure & Form

Though the text of “Blackberry Eating” consists of fourteen lines, it is not a sonnet. There is no set rhyme scheme or meter. This free-verse poem contains a single sentence separated into fourteen lines. The line breaks are calculated and intricately tied with the content. Such a structure creates an unhindered flow and keeps the subject limited only to the act of blackberry-eating. There is no digression as such. Besides, the overall poem is written from the first-person point of view.

Literary Devices & Figurative Language

Kinnell makes use of the following literary devices in his poem “Blackberry Eating.”

Imagery

This poem is rich in imagery. Kinell incorporates visual, tactile, and gustatory imagery across the text. For instance, the second line presents a visual of the ripe blackberries accompanied by the sense of touch. Let’s have a look at the different types of imagery used in the poem:

  • Visual Imagery: “among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries”; “the stalks very prickly”
  • Tactile Imagery: “lifting the stalks to my mouth”; “in the silent, startled, icy, black language/ of blackberry-eating in late September.”
  • Gustatory Imagery: “the ripest berries/ fall almost unbidden to my tongue”; “which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well”

Metaphor

There is a metaphor in the phrase “the black art/ of blackberry-making.” Through this phrase, Kinnell presents an implicit comparison between the act of blackberry-making and art. He thinks the making of the berries is a secret art only known by the blackberry tree or nature. Similarly, “black language/ of blackberry-eating” is another metaphor using which the poet compares the secretive morning act of eating blackberries to a mode of communication with nature.

Simile

It occurs in the line “like strengths or squinched.” The poet compares the bunch of blackberries to the monosyllabic words having consonant clusters. For instance, the word “strengths” begins and ends with consonant clusters loosely tied by the vowel “e” just like a bunch of ripe blackberries.

Alliteration

The recurrence of similar sounds at the beginning of nearby words can be found in the following phrases:

  • black blackberries”
  • blackberries for breakfast”
  • prickly, a penalty”
  • black art/ of blackberry-making”
  • my mouth”
  • strengths or squinched
  • squeeze, squinch”
  • silent, startled”
  • black language/ of blackberry-eating”

Consonance

There are a number of instances where this device is used. For example, readers can find the resonance of the “r” sound in the second and third lines:

among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries

to eat blackberries for breakfast,

Similarly, there is a repetition of the “l” sound in the following lines:

like strengths or squinched,

many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps

The soft sound of the consonant “s” resonates in these lines:

which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well

in the silent, startled, icy, black language

Repetition

Kinnell uses this device in order to highlight the main idea of the poem which is the blackberries and their black color. He uses the term “black” alone thrice, and along with the term “blackberries” four times. Besides, there is a repetition of “late September” highlighting the season of autumn in the beginning as well as in the end.

Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-3

I love to go out in late September

among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries

to eat blackberries for breakfast,

In Galway Kinnell’s poem “Blackberry Eating,” the poetic persona provides his firsthand experience of eating ripe blackberries in late autumn. People are used to eating blackberries not in the way the speaker enjoys. He holds the experience so dear to his heart that he loves each step of the act. Firstly, he takes a solitary morning walk in late September to go among the blackberry vines. Then he feels the fatness of the overripe berries with his own hands. He can feel their icy coldness in late autumn. It gives a soothing sensation to his very soul. Finally, he eats them for breakfast.

Lines 4-6

the stalks very prickly, a penalty

they earn for knowing the black art

of blackberry-making;

From these lines, the speaker goes deeper into each step and describes his feelings. He carefully touches the berries as the stalks are prickly. The thorns seem to be a curse of knowing the “black art of blackberry-making.” Every sweet thing comes with a negative aspect. It is the blackberry tree’s cross to bear. The term “black art” simply means a creative, secretive act. Only nature or the blackberry tree knows the art.

Lines 6-8

and as I stand among them

lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries

fall almost unbidden to my tongue,

The speaker stands among the vines. He lifts the prickly stalks carefully to his mouth. The ripest berries being loosely attached to the stalk fall almost “unbidden” to his tongue. It is important to note the use of the term “unbidden.” The speaker probably lifts the stalk to feel or smell the berries. He does not wish to eat them right away before savoring them with his external senses. However, the final event is naturally expedited as the ripe berries are loosely stuck with the stalk.

Lines 9-11

as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words

like strengths and squinched,

many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,

In these lines of “Blackberry Eating,” Kinnell uses an interesting analogy. Readers should not focus more on the meaning of terms in italics. These words are just used as examples of consonant clusters. A consonant cluster is a series of consonant sounds loosely tied by a vowel sound. This analogy is used to describe the berries attached to the bunch. The berries stand for the consonants and the vowel is a metaphor for the stalk.

The speaker describes how such words come unbidden to the mind. One need not be forced to remember those words having consonant clusters. They just come to their minds during communication. Similarly, when the speaker holds the bunch, ripe berries fall in his mouth spontaneously. He further compares the bunch of berries to the multi-lettered, monosyllabic words.

Lines 12-14

which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well

in the silent, startled, icy, black language

of blackberry-eating in late September.

In the last three lines of the poem, the speaker focuses on the act of eating the blackberries. He squeezes the berries with his teeth and squinches them open. Then he starts to splurge the moment well enough in silence. He feels quite startled while tasting the rich taste of ripe blackberries. Finally, he describes the language he uses to communicate his experience as the “black language of blackberry-eating.” This language is also secretive and abstract just like the “black art of blackberry-making.” The final words “late September” highlight the season of autumn once again.

Theme

The theme of “Blackberry Eating” revolves around the act of eating blackberries. This poem also explores the themes of experience and nature. Through the simple act of blackberry eating, Kinnell highlights the importance of enjoying each moment in one’s life. Tasting is not only about using one’s gustatory senses but it concerns the taster’s holistic engagement with the act itself. For instance, the speaker experiences and enjoys each step right from the beginning. Apart from that, the poet also hints at the secrets in nature that amuse him.

Questions & Answers

What is the “Blackberry Eating” poem about?

Galway Kinnell’s poem “Blackberry Eating” is all about the act of eating blackberries in late autumn. The speaker of the poem describes how he savors the ripe, juicy, and icy cold berries with his eyes, hands, and finally, with his tongue.

What is the meaning of “Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell?

The inner meaning of “Blackberry Eating” is how a simple day-to-day act can provide spiritual pleasure. In this poem, the speaker describes taking a morning walk in late autumn in order to taste berries. The act of eating blackberries in late September appears to be an act that gives a lasting, blissful sensation to his soul.

When was “Blackberry Eating” written?

The poem was first published in one of the best-known collections of poetry by Galway Kinnell, Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980). It appears in Part II of the book.

What is the theme of “Blackberry Eating”?

The theme of “Blackberry Eating” is the act of eating blackberries. It also includes the themes of human experience, nature, and satisfaction.

What is the tone of “Blackberry Eating”?

The tone of this poem is personal, calm, and emotive. This piece is about the subjective experience of blackberry eating.

What type of poem is “Blackberry Eating”?

“Blackberry Eating” is a free-verse poem without a regular rhyme or meter. There are a total of fourteen lines that are grouped into a single stanza. Besides, the overall poem is an unbroken chain of a single sentence.

Is “Blackberry Eating” a sonnet?

“Blackberry Eating” is not a sonnet though the text contains fourteen lines. Due to the absence of a set rhyme scheme or meter, it is a free-verse lyric poem.

Is “Blackberry Eating” free verse or metrical?

This poem is in unmetered free-verse without a set rhyme scheme.


Similar Poems about Experience

  • Persimmons” by Li-Young Lee — In this poem, Lee describes the ingenious way of eating Persimmons.
  • Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke — This greenhouse poem is about the dingy environment of a root cellar.
  • The Awakening” by James Weldon Johnson — This piece taps on the theme of the spiritual awakening of a rose after coming in contact with a symbolic bee.
  • Song of the Flower” by Kahlil Gibran — In this poem, Gibran describes the simple life of a flower.


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