In Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying”, the speaker narrates a journey down a path that is lined with blackberries on the way to the seaside. The literal journey is described with vivid imagery that gives the reader an idea of exactly where the speaker is in physical proximity to the blackberries. However, with imagery that loosens as the poem gains momentum, the speaker ends in a bare patch of rock overlooking nothing, and listening to sounds that have hell-like imagery. Therefore, this poem can be read as an allegory for life, and the internal feelings that humans have regarding what is at the end of life’s path. The first stanza can be interpreted as being in the womb. The second stanza can be interpreted as the passage of life. The last stanza can be interpreted as arriving at life’s end, and facing an abyss of time. However, the imagery of birth, life and death is found throughout the poem. Moreover, the imagery in the beginning of the poem is naturalistic, but changes at the end of the poem to unnatural industrial imagery.
In the beginning of the poem, the speaker is walking down a path of blackberries that are extremely abundant. It is possible that the blackberries are analogous for the birthing canal, because the imagery is of peering down a path, lined with blackberries, that ends in an opening…possibly to the sea, or at least is seems this is what the speaker seems to hope. There are visual allusions that can be imagined to be a description of the birth canal throughout the poem. These images are the blackberry, to begin, which is described to look similar to an egg in the womb. Then, the cluster of blackberries looks like the side of a womb; the tunnel of light is the canal; the berries flatten their sides to accommodate a milk bottle (i.e. a baby); the burst of wind is the first exposure to air; and, the two hills are the two knees of the mother.
In life, there are scary people who threaten the speaker, and try to misguide the speaker. There are huge scary black crows that threaten the blackberries, however, these crows could symbolize the mean people who one will encounter throughout life. These mean types of people make life so hard, that the sea, or heaven does not seem like it will ever appear. Unfortunately, the speaker does not follow the right path in life, but gives way to the path that the sheep follow.
The youthful blackberries disappear and the speaker is left with an abyss of nothing but the sounds of sheet metal. The sounds of sheet metal and the word “din” definitely tell the reader the speaker has not been led to the heavenly sea, as hoped, but that the speaker has arrived at a hellishly empty sea. The imagery in the poem can be interpreted to mean many things. There is textual evidence which supports the interpretation of “Blackberrying” as one that depicts birth, life, and death. The path of blackberries is described as “blue red”, but the reader tends to want to read blood red: “With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers. / I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.” (Plath 7-8). It seems like Plath might be saying that no one asks to be born. The blackberries, might be an image of clusters of eggs waiting to be allowed to live. This is why the juices are “squandered”, as in wasted, on the speaker. The speaker goes on to: “These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt. / I follow the sheep path between them…” (Plath 22-23). Basically, Plath is saying that the temptations of life are deceptive and are easy to follow. This is because these temptations are pleasurable. This interpretation is backed up by the last two lines in the second stanza: “The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven. / One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.” (Plath 17-18). The honey-feast is the giving in to life’s temptations.
Because the speaker follows the same path as everyone else who gives into temptation, the path leads to a hellish image of nothingness and the din of sheet metal workers. The contrast between the natural imagery of the poem is contrasted by the industrial imagery at the end. The contrast of the imagery in the poem, from beginning to end, is itself an allegory for the way that life starts out innocent, but wrong choices are made, and one still expects the path to lead to the “sea”, or heaven. But, that does not happen, and one walks a path straight to a hellish void.
The interpretation of this poem is one of many possibilities. The manner in which the tone changes from beginning to end is one of the nuances that Plath is able to use in order to create a momentum that the reader follows until the reader is stopped at the dead end of the path. The imagery of industrial sheet metal is such a change in tone and meaning from the initial nature walk down a path lined with blackberries. The poem’s impact is felt because of the manner that the tone and imagery changes from being a natural tone with natural images, to an industrial tone with unnatural imagery. The blackberry path transforms during the poem from one that is heavenly to one that is hellish.
- Plath, Sylvia. “Blackberrying”, (1960). Poetryfoundation.org, 2016. Accessed 21 Sep. 2016.