The poem “ Blackberries” by Yusef Komunyakaa tells the story of a boy who slowly loses his innocence. While gathering blackberries in the forest his hands are stained by the juices from the blackberries as he picks them. The boy procures a sense of joy from this manual labor and sees it as honorable work.
However, as will see this type of honorability is lost. This poem conveys the narrative of the realization of a lost childhood. This is done through the use of imagery, diction, and metaphors. From the beginning of the poem the diction used gives a sense of innocence with the feel of guilt. The narrator draws the reader in by painting the picture of having fresh, sticky juices stained on his hand as if he were a printer or a thief being finger printed for a crime.
“They left my hands like a printer’s / or thief’s before a police blotter”. Which starts the poem with an unexpected dark connotation. This creates a clear image of his hands stained purple, in every nook and crease on his hand. The diction in this stanza makes it seem that the boy thinks of himself as nothing better than a criminal. The boy having to fend for him self deprives him of that sweet childhood innocence. However, “almost / Needful as forgiveness”, gives the impression that the boy is holding out for forgiveness.
As if he were guilty for something concealed in his past. The recurring loss of childhood innocence is a reappearing theme in the poem “Blackberries”. In the third stanza Komunyakaa writes, “An hour later, beside City Limits Road / I balanced a gleaming can in each hand, / Limboed between worlds, repeating one dollar.”
The boy is back from harvesting berries in the forest, and the setting seems to be a city. He was forced in life to stand on the side of the road holding buckets of blackberries and trying to sell them for one dollar to people who had money and easy lives.
The boy daydreams of being able to take the berries home and make pies and cobblers, however, that dream is quickly diminished by the realization that he has to sell them to survive. The last two sentences of the poem “It was then I remembered my fingers, / burning with thorns among berries too ripe to touch” really stood out about how the child did not experience the same child hood.
After seeing the boy and the girl in the car there was jealousy, remembering that the child had to pick blackberries for a living. The child didn’t get to enjoy the luxury that the boy and girl did in the car.
The young 10-year-old boy in the poem represented the different levels of social class. After filling the cans of berries the child described selling berries on the side of the road as “Limboed between worlds”. The two different worlds are lower class and higher class.
The boy is in the lower class selling the berries to get by and maybe even provide for some sort of family. The imagery of when the car drove past they explained the air-conditioning as “wintertime crawled out of the windows,” indicating that the boy stood in the heat all day without a break.
Their smirks shock him out of his grand dreams, and the thorns become a negative object burning his fingers just like the crown of thorns. Once again the realization that physically he is different from the children in the car.
While “Blackberries” may speak of several concerns and social issues, what I find most captivating are the images of food. These sensory images appeal so much that they help the reader feel the longing of an easy life felt by the boy. We get the sense that the fruit is imaginary as the narrator refers to mythology and dreams.
Not only does his imagination provide images of food memories of plentiful berry harvests but his daydreams are also of pies and cobblers. The imagery is so powerful that it almost sidetracks the reader from the boy’s abysmal reality.
By using visual imagery and metaphoric language throughout the poem, Yusef is able to reflect the sad and confused emotions.
When the reader begins to read the poem he first sees the metaphor of the boys hand being compared to a printer or a thief before a police blotter. This is used to describe the stains on the boy’s hand. He describes his feeling of confusion of the social worlds, by comparing the cans of blackberries to himself being limboed between worlds.
In conclusion, “ Blackberries” is a poem filled with surprises, imagery, and different types of figurative language. The narrator essentially bared his soul to the reader in the sense of his childhood.
We read of a child longing for a childhood like other children had the luxury of having. However, in that moment where he is picking the blackberries he seems almost content with the cards he was dealt with. I chose the title “ Terrestrial Sweetness” because of the fact that these blackberries brought the young boy optimistic daydreams. The dark beginning tones of the poems blend seamlessly with the romantic language.