11 July 2013

Poetry Thursday - Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath

"All that is ripe wants to die" (Nietzsche); photo by Ardfern (via)


Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,   
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
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.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.   
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,   
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me   
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock   
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space   
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths   
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.
A detailed analysis of the poem, including biographical notes on the author and a historical context, is here.

Written in 1961, the poem wasn't published until 1971, eight years after Plath's suicide, by which time the mythology of her life was firmly in place. The main theme is life and death, and the poem seems to become more sinister the more you read it.

I'm drawn to the colours mentioned in it - red-blue, black (and ebon), green (twice), bluegreen, orange, white, pewter - and it also seems to be filled with shapes, or rather, images of concrete (shaped) things - hooks, alleys, thumbs, milkbottle, paper, hills, rock, etc.

The "great space ... and a din" at the end brings to mind an artwork by Dani Karavan, "Passages - Walter Benjamin". Commissioned to make a memorial for Benjamin, who, unable to go further to flee from the Nazis, committed suicide at Port Bou, Spain, in 1940. Karavan thought the whirlpools symbolised Benjamin's turbulent life - but how to make other people see this? The result is a set of enclosed steps, ending at a pane of glass (with an etched text by Benjamin), beyond which are the rocks and the sea. In the cemetery to which the tunnel leads are an ancient olive tree, and a platform on which you can sit and watch the  sea.


Felicity said...

That is a stunning poem! And an equally stunning memorial.

Thank you - every one of your posts is a gift :)

June said...

I never read this poem, so thanks. I think the description is mostly just a gorgeous description, so I refused to read the analysis (although I might give in later:-) ). Even knowing what I do about Plath, I don't see a lot that's sinister -- like you, the color and sense of space is more appealing -- and of course the language -- the honey-feast of the berries, etc.