Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Blackberries” and Sylvia Plath’s poem “Blackberrying” are two of the many poems that have utilized the theme of blackberry picking as a plot. Both poems belong to distinctly different eras of American History. Sylvia Plath is a confessional poet while Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem is deep-rooted in his childhood experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. Both poems have strong autobiographical elements to them. Though Komunyakaa’s “Blackberries” and Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying”, deal with blackberry picking, they also involve the conflicts in the mind and the authors’ inability to escape from them.
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Komunyakaa’s poem narrates the story of a boy picking blackberries whereas, in Plath’s poem, the author describes her walk down the deserted road surrounded by blackberry bushes. Both poems provide vivid accounts of the working of the human mind, yet they describe it differently. The boy in Komunyakaa’s poem is Komunyakaa himself, who was born in native Louisiana as the son of a cobbler. The boy in the poem eats blackberries and also collects them in a can to sell them for $1 to those who travel by the City Limits Road. The smirks of two children seated in a car make him realize that he has become darker and dirtier due to the stain of blackberry juice. In Plath’s poem, the author collects blackberries in the milk bottle while remaining preoccupied with her thoughts about death and life.
Blackberries are the most important imagery in both poems. In Plath’s poem blackberries become another important character whereas, in Komunyakaa’s poem, they bear historical and biblical references to it. Plath compares the juice of blackberries to blood and considers the berries as women. The blood spots in her hand, due to the thorns in the bushes, make her think that the author and the berries have now become blood-sisters because they have joined their ‘blood’ and rubbed their hands together. These ‘women’ are plump and ripe to pluck, which leads her to think that her own life can come to an end at any time. Komunyakaa compares blackberry juice to ‘police blotter’ and this gives him the feel of a thief. He says that the berries fell off from the branches on to the ground like a ‘garland of thorns’, giving the readers an allusion of the crown of the thorns worn by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. The readers also see that the blackberry juice helps him to realize the fact that he is dark and different from the children seated in the car.
Komunyakaa’s poem depicts the image of racial tension whereas Plath’s poem projects a picture of a disturbed mind, walking on the mid-space between life and death. Komunyakaa mentions about his ancestors, as he could smell ‘the old lime-covered History’ (Komunyakaa 474) in his hand while eating the blackberries. This is a clear indication of the fact that the boy understands his lineage and his value in contemporary society. Nevertheless, when he drifts into his dream about ‘pies & cobbler’ (Komunyakaa par. 2). The readers find him as an innocent child who is only a 10 year old. The passing description of a boy and a girl, driven around in a car, ultimately makes the protagonist feel dejected and inferior to the children he notices.
The blackberry stains evoke the feeling of guilt in the boy as he compares his appearance to the children of his age seated in the car. Plath, on the other hand, is feeling lonely which is indicated by the heaving sea near the blackberry bushes. In her utter despair, she gives the juice of blackberries the identity of blood and blackberries themselves the identity of women. The blood in her hands due to the thorns in the blackberry bushes since is brushed against the blackberry juice (blood) and she considers blackberries as her blood-sisters. Through this ritual, Plath compares herself to the berries, which are healthy, ‘plump and ripe for the picking’, which symbolically means death. Here, the author is expressing her belief that her life will meet with its end anytime as the line demarcating life and death is very thin.
Komunyakaa’s poem is of 24 lines poem arranged in four stanzas whereas Plath’s poem is of 27lines arranged in three stanzas. The authors stage the scene of blackberry picking. The boy, representing Komunyakaa’s childhood, is caught between the innocence of childhood and racial indifference of the real world. In Plath’s poem, the readers see the author trying to provide blackberries the identity of blood-hood sisters so that she can interact with them. Komunyakaa’s poem is about the shedding of childhood innocence and his entry to the road of racial and social inequalities; Plath’s poem is about the isolation, depression (sea), and the approaching death. In Komunyakaa’s poem, the blackberries give the realization to the boy that he cannot escape from the inevitable, difficult, and dejected path of social inequalities whereas in Plath’s poem, the blackberries symbolizes the utter desolation and despair of the author that culminates into the desire to die.
Komunyakaa, Yusef. Blackberries. Dandeliondiadem’s Weblog. WordPress.com. 2009. Web.
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Komunyakaa, Yusef. Chapter 36: Writing About Literature. Print.