The poem “Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell is a short but effective example of how the use of the elements of poetry can evoke emotional reaction and the corresponding emotional experience in people. The poem starts out with a matter-of-factly account or story telling of a late September trip or errand to pick up “fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries to ear blackberries for breakfast”. While the first three lines directly expresses, herein, the author still makes use of stressed imagery.
The color “black”, an apparent redundancy, is used to precede “blackberry” to produce or connote the image of the darkness or deepness of the fruit color, on top of the other qualities of fatness or big size and possible coldness and juicy stage of ripeness. “The stalks very prickly, a penalty they earn for knowing the black art of blackberry-making;” These next two and a half lines jumps into or introduces the level of figurative language. What initially seems a either an implied mystery or a misguided use of the pronoun “they” in referring to that entity knowledgeable on “the black art” is in fact metaphorical language.
The prickly stalks obviously are not persons who practice the supposedly dark or secret art of blackberry-making. What the “penalty” element in the metaphor perhaps suggests is that the practitioner of the art earns a disadvantage, or a price to pay, when he or she holds the stalks to pick up the blackberries. These next words prompt the reader to think what the author is trying to tell: “and as I stand among them lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries fall almost unbidden to my tongue…. ”
But the next line provides the unequivocal clue: “as words sometimes do…. “. Herein, it is revealed that the berries are compared to words, implying that blackberry-making is likened to making a craft or something with words. At this point, the poem becomes clear, as metaphor is clearly replaced with the simile tool of the conjunction “as”. What makes this apparently simple, down-to-earth poem particularly appealing to read and listen to is the equally effective use of sound devices. A sort of metaphorical onomatopoeia is made use of in the next lines:
“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”. As one reads or listens to these words of simile between creating prose and poetry or oration, it is as if one can almost hear the process of chewing and eating blackberries. In Blackberry Eating, rhythm, consonance or the repeated consonant sounds anywhere and alliteration or repeated initial consonants are obviously present, what with the multiple use of black by itself or as prefix: black blackberries, blackberries, blackberry-making.
“S” is also alliterated several times with the words strengths, squeeze, splurge, silent, startled and the present and past forms of squinch. “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”. As later revealed, the “tenor” in this part of poem, or what Galway Kinnell means, is the process involved in poetry composition.
The author’s use of the brambles and bramble fruit plant parts and the act of preparing and eating them suggest the creation or the composition of poetry. The words or lines actually used to that effect, technically called “vehicle”, constitute the metaphor or analogy. That the subject needs to go out (of his abode) to be able to procure the raw blackberry refers to the what the poet has to do in order to carry out the preliminary phase of composing his poem. As the time period of “late September” is repeated at the end of the poem, the significance of this author’s choice of the month becomes evident.
The line “of blackberry-eating in late September” makes another use of sound device: the ber is repeated to create a rhythmic finale to the poem. A fusion of the style devices of literal and figurative language and sound devices, Kinnell’s Blackberry Eating is an excellent piece of poetic genius. As Kinnell brings to the reader the pleasure, along with the efforts, of preparing and eating blackberries, the poem communicates how literature is akin to it. The total product is poetically narrative, metaphorically educational and a pleasure to read and hear.