Column Editor: Donna Jacobs (Retired, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29425)
Disappointment. The appropriate sentiment upon learning that the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature would not be awarded due to a scandal involving allegations of sexual misconduct by the husband of a seated academy member. (It caused quite a stir — Google it and read.) I look forward to all the Nobel Prize announcements each year, and writing about the current Literature Laureate has been a staple in the Booklover series for Against the Grain. Time to pull out the Nobel Literature Laureate List and pick another author.
Seamus Heaney won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” “Blackberry-Picking” was my random choice from a list entitled “10 of the Best Seamus Heaney Poems Everyone Should Read” found on interestingliterature.com. Sidebar: still getting my head around the whole digital reading experience. The site gave the following brief description:
“This classic Heaney poem, published in his first published volume, the 1966 book Death of a Naturalist, is simultaneously about picking blackberries in August and, on another level, about a loss of youthful innocence and a growing awareness of disappointment as we grow up. It’s undoubtedly one of Heaney’s best-known poems, and remains widely studied in schools.”
Seems I’ve made a fine choice. Blackberry picking should be part of everyone’s youthful summer experience and disappointment is what got us here to this poem.
I would usually share a few lines from my reading experience to accentuate the impact of the word craft; however, the following caution on the website where I found the poem gave me pause. “Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.” I might suggest another Google search and read.
The family farmhouse called Mossbawn in Northern Ireland is the birthplace of Seamus Heaney. Maybe the bucolic setting of his youth influenced the poetic metaphor of blackberry picking for this Irish lad. While studying English Language and Literature at the Queen’s University of Belfast, he read Ted Hughes’ “Lupercal” and was pricked by the poetry thorn. He also pursued training in the teaching field and thus a career path of education and poetry was launched. He lectured in many educational settings including Harvard University where he served both as the Bolyston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory from 1985-1997 and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet in Residence from 1998-2006. Honorary degrees and literature accolades filled up the professional “jam-pot” of the man that Robert Lowell called “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” His poetry is well loved, studied and popular. Book sales alone were tallied at two-thirds of the sales of the other living poets of the United Kingdom. In 2013, Heaney passed and was buried in the countryside of his youth. His obituary included one verse that seems to get a lot of exposure as it expressed in three lines and 16 words his strong sense of Irish identity over British nationality:
“Be advised, my passport’s green
No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast the Queen.”