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Revision: Literary Analysis of "Blackberry-Picking" & "Sympathy"

Comparison and Contrast of imagery, point of view, and tone between the poems "Blackberry-Picking" by Seamus Heaney and "Sympathy" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Prepared for Literary Analysis class focusing on subjectivity.

shannon pond

on 9 March 2018

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Transcript of Revision: Literary Analysis of "Blackberry-Picking" & "Sympathy"

Both poems leave the reader feeling sad and grieving for something lost. However, Heaney's poem's title "Blackberry-Picking" allows the reader to anticipate a lighthearted poem. As a result the reader is taken on a journey of innocence lost. Rather, Dunbar's title, "Sympathy" prepares the reader from the beginning that there will be grief and loss in the poem setting the mood from the beginning.
Imagery can allow the reader to taste, feel, or hear the words that he is reading. Both Heaney and Dunbar use vivid imagery to paint a picture of their poems in the reader's mind. In doing this the reader is able to become a part of the poem. Heaney uses imagery to allow the reader to transport in time back to childhood when the world as viewed through a child's eyes is perfect and right. Dunbar uses imagery to allow the reader to not just sympathize but to empathize with someone who wants nothing more than to be free.
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals--
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting--
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,--
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings--
I know why the caged bird sings! (Dunbar,
A biography on the Paul Laurence Dunbar Website (2003) describes Dunbar’s life as hard. He was born late in the nineteenth century to two former slaves and was raised solely by his mother after his father left them; consequently, forcing his mother to find employment as a house maid (“Biography”, 2003). As Dunbar grew older he was subjected to adversity everyday serving as a reminder to him of the life his parents lived as slaves (“Biography”, 2003). The biography (2003) further explains that although Dunbar had the opportunity to attend school he was the only African-American in his high school class, and after college, despite his schooling, he found it difficult to find good employment, forcing him to settle as an elevator operator. Dunbar learned firsthand how life was unfair at a pinnacle time in American history when African-Americans were not accepted as an equal part of society. Dunbar’s parents’ and his own experiences of inequality took a toll on his life leading him to a life of depression, alcoholism, and then death at the age of thirty three (“Biography”, 2003).

Dunbar provokes feelings of grief and sadness in his poem which were feelings he was experiencing. He develops these feelings with the use of imagery, point of view and the tone they establish. “Sympathy” gives insight into Dunbar’s views of living in a society where all humans are not treated equal and fair. In his poem he offers a glimpse of how dreadful not being able to choose your own free will is and why death is an inviting solution.
Tone and mood, point of view, and imagery are three literary elements that both Paul Laurence Dunbar and Seamus Heaney use in their poems to convert their thoughts about existing social struggles into words.
Literary Analysis of "Blackberry-Picking" & "Sympathy"
Social Struggles
Literary Element # 2
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not. (Heaney, 2013)
by: Seamus Heaney
"Blackberry-Picking" is about picking blackberries on a summer afternoon. Heaney describes the way they taste and feel and the contentment that is received in their bounty but also the dissatisfaction in their spoiling.
growing up with feelings of innocence believing everything is perfect
the wisdom in knowing that nothing is perfect and regardless of how hard one tries to hold on to the way it was all things, even good things, will come to an end
Both Heaney and Dunbar allow the reader to experience social struggles that are prevalent in their lives. Heaney provides a glimpse of childhood innocence lost and lets the reader travel through his journey of remorse and dissatisfaction in life. Dunbar reveals struggles of coping with grief and of a lifetime of lost freedom. He allows the reader to feel his innermost emotions.

Both authors implement a variety of literary elements to describe their struggles. Three of which are tone and mood, imagery, and point of view. Heaney and Dunbar both create and develop the tone of the poem with the use of imagery and point of view and all the elements complement one another to further illustrate the authors' struggles.
by: Paul Laurence Dunbar
Social Struggles
In this poem the narrator relates to a caged bird. He expresses he understands and knows what the bird is feeling and like the bird longs to be free.
the desire to be who and to do what you want to be and do
the wisdom of knowing that truly the only way to be free will be through death
Literary Element # 1
The tone and/or mood in each poem helps the author express his feelings about the social struggles revealed in the poems.

Heaney's tone in "Blackberry-Picking" begins jovial and light but ends sad and dark. This emphasizes the narrator's contentment with innocent naivety at the beginning of the poem and his regrets and dissatisfaction in life at the end.

Where as, Dunbar's tone in "Sympathy" remains constant throughout. The mood in "Sympathy" is somber and grief ridden. Dunbar's mood helps invoke a powerful message of how dreadful life is when one is not able to live it as he wishes.
Jovial and light
"You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet" (Heaney, 2013, line 5) This allows you to remember how innocent picking and eating fruit off the vine was as a child and how happy it made you feel.
Sad and dark
"The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour." (Heaney, 2013, line 21). The fermentation is a reminder that in life reality is not as sweet as it appears.
Somber and grief ridden
"I know why the caged bird beats his wing/ Till its blood is red on the cruel bars" (Dunbar, 2013, lines 8-9). This allows the reader to sympathize for the narrator and the bird because they are trapped in a place where they are unable to be free, autonomous, or happy. They have no free will and it is sad.
Through the use of imagery both authors are able to invoke feelings from the reader. Heaney chooses words that invoke physical senses describing how things tasted, smelt, sounded, and looked while Dunbar's use of imagery is used only to describe the pain the bird is in, both physical and mental. Through Heaney's descriptions the reader is able to imagine themselves feeling the delight in the harvest of the berries but the disappointment in the spoiling of them. Dunbar's descriptions tug at the reader's emotions and the reader is able to feel the mental anguish the bird is in.

Additionally, both authors utilize imagery to further emphasize the tone they created in the poem. Heaney begins his poem with agreeable words such as, "sun," (2013, line 1) and, "sweet" (2013, line 5) but ends with, "stinking," (2013, line 20) and, "fermented," (2013, line 21). This imagery establishes a sense of fun and joy at the beginning but ends with ideas of filth. Dunbar opens his poem with images of open fields and flowing water but then quickly switches over to his current plight of entrapment. This conjures feelings of grief, and things lost emphasizing his somber tone.
"glossy purple clot"
"hard as a knot"
"flesh was sweet"
"like thickened wine"
"hands were peppered with thorn pricks"
"palms sticky as Bluebeard's"
"rat-grey fungus"
"lovely canfuls smelt of rot" (Heaney, 2013, lines 3-6, 16, 19, & 23)
"sun is bright on the upland slopes"
"winds stirs soft through the springing grass"
"river flows like a stream of glass"
"caged bird beats his wing, till its blood is red on the cruel bars"
"pain still throbs in the old, old scars"
"his wing is bruised and his bosom sore"
"a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings" (Dunbar, 2013, lines
2-4, 8-9, 12, 16, & 20)
Point of View
Literary Element # 3
Through the use of point of view an author is able to emphasize an established tone and/or mood of a poem and further develop feelings created through the use of imagery. Both Heaney and Dunbar use a first person point of view. Through first person point of view the reader is able to put themselves into the poems. This may provoke the reader's emotions and senses. Heaney also uses second person point of view to invoke feelings from the reader. Where as, Dunbar utilizes third person point of view as he describes the trials of the bird and compares them to his own.
First Person
"I" (Heaney, 2013, lines 9-12, 15-18, & 22)
Second Person
"You" (Heaney, 2013, line 5)
Both authors use first person point of view throughout the poem. In addition to the first person point of view, though, Heaney introduces second person point of view further drawing in the reader; as if the reader themselves was talking to someone about the berries. This further establishes the first person point of view and allows the reader to fully immerse themselves into the poem and draw on his own senses which then allows the reader to feel the dissatisfaction and remorse of the spoiled berries.

Dunbar, on the other hand, continuously switches between first person and third person throughout his poem. This allows a comparison between the narrator's emotions and the bird's to be established. Through the use of first person point of view Dunbar creates a scenario in which the reader can become the narrator and is then able to feel the anguish the bird experiencing.
According to a biography on Nobelprize.org (2013) Heaney lived in rural Northern Ireland until the age of twelve when he moved into the city to attend school, notably marking the first of many moves further into city life. Heaney loved life on the farm but he once noted, “I learned that my local County Derry [childhood] experience, which I had considered archaic and irrelevant to ‘the modern world’ was to be trusted.” ("Seamus Heaney”, 2013). His view of the farm’s irrelevance is symbolic of his views on childhood, required but unnecessary. Through “Blackberry-Picking” Heaney offers readers a glimpse of his childhood that was left behind on the farm when he moved. As the oldest of nine children and experiencing the loss of his parents at a young age he was forced to grow up and be responsible ("Seamus Heaney”, 2013). With each move further into a city his childhood innocence melted further and further away until it was left as just a memory on the farm.

Through the use of imagery, and first person point of view Heaney is able to establish a journey through innocence into adulthood in his poem "Blackberry-Picking". The imagery and point of view help to establish the tone of the poem and Heaney is able to invoke feelings long lost in the reader. In doing this he allows the reader to see a glimpse of his own struggles with remorse and reality and leaving childhood grandeur behind as he became an adult.
Heaney, S. (2013). Blackberry-Picking. PoemHunter.com.
Retrieved from http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/blackberry-picking-3/.
Dunbar, P. L. (2013). Sympathy. PoemHunter.com.
Retrieved from
Nobelprize.org. (2013). Seamus Heaney-Biography.
Retrieved from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1995/heaney.html .
Paul Laurence Dunbar Website. (2003). Biography: The
life of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Retrieved from http://www.dunbarsite.org/biopld.asp .
First Person
"I," and "me"
"I" (Dunbar, 2013, lines 1, 8-9, 14-15, & 21)
Third Person
"he" (Dunbar, 2013, lines, 10-11, 14,
17, & 19-20)
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