Blackberries Yusef Komunyakaa

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In the poems “Blackberrying” and “Blackberries” the authors Sylvia Plath and Yusef Komunyakaa both use diction, imagery, and figurative language to establish symbols that work to impact the overall tone of the poem. In “BlackBerrying” Sylvia Plath uses blackberries to symbolize her loneliness. While Komunyakaa uses blackberries to symbolize his innocence in a world were the rich look down on the poor.

First of all, Plath and Komunyakaa both use symbols that impact the overall tone of their poems.

Sylvia Plath demonstrates her emotional struggle and her need of company by stating she has a bond “blood sisterhood” with the berries and were she believes “they must love” her (Line 8). She is alone in the woods and the blackberries which are symbolic of imaginary people are her only company.

This emphasizes her loneliness since she is imagining that the blackberries are people who are offering her their love. The thought of being alone for Plath is a fear she has and to have blackberries as your company is how she creates a frightening tone.

She continues this frightening tone when she sees the “choughs in black” which she describes as cacophonous. Choughs are black birds with red feet, symbolic for death, and their cacophonous (discordant) noise which is symbolic for her inner voice screaming at her things she doesn’t want to hear.

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Clearly, Plath through the use of these words is able to show how she is depressed and afraid. Later on she see’s a “bush of flies” indicating the berries are rotten and the choughs are feasting on this (Line 15-16).

Blackberry Symbolism

The bush of flies is probably symbolic for her soul, deteriorating because she is depressed and the choughs in this case are symbolic of loneliness and death which is slowly eating away her soul. This further increases the dark and ominous tone and Plath is able to show this to the reader through the use of symbols and their emotional impact. In contrast, Komunyakaa uses diction and symbols to show how his innocence is taken away by a society where he is looked down upon. Komunyakaa demonstrates his innocence when he eats berries with one hand and with the other puts them in the gallon as part of his work (Line 9-10).

He like any child takes work as play and see’s no wrong in doing hard labor yet he is unaware that he like many others is being taken advantage of. The blackberries in here symbolize his innocence which helps build up the poem to the part where he becomes aware of the truth. When, Komunyakaa has collected enough he goes to the city to sell the blackberries, here is where he finds himself “Limboed between worlds” (Line 18). Komunyakaa references the Bible throughout the poem, for instance the Limbo is where non-Christians go after death and this limbo is in between Earth and Heaven.

The limbo is symbolic for his feeling of being stuck between two worlds since he has now seen the contrast between the rich (Heaven) and poor (Earth). This symbolism plays an important role in impacting the tone because his idea of life as he is experiencing, isn’t what he thought it to be. Komunyakaa realizes how the poor are belittled and looked down on when the girl and boy are “in the wide seat Smirking” (Line 21-23). His usage of words are effective in letting the reader know that the girl and boy are symbolic of rich “wealthy” since he describes their car as wide and with air-conditioning.

This usage of words lets the reader know that the girl and boy are more privileged since they seem to have an attitude where they feel superior to Komunyakaa because of what they own. Also, the reader can see the disillusioned tone where Komunyakaa is looked at as inferior and it’s then he realizes his people are just slaves that work for the rich. Furthermore, Plath and Komunyakaa use imagery to convey how symbols impact the tone of their poems. Plath, while alone in the woods see’s “bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky” (Line 11). The “bits of paper” are symbolic of the choughs and “in a blown sky” meaning in flight.

This aids in creating a dark feeling to the poem for the fact that she is alone and the visual imagery of death or misery flying in the air shows she is afraid of what might happen. Then, she hears only their voice “protesting, protesting” (Line 12). Plath uses auditory imagery here to create a frightening scene for the audience so they can imagine what she is going through. The choughs protesting symbolizes her inner voice screaming things she fears, screaming for help, and screaming what she doesn’t want to hear. This symbolism impacts the tone by making it more frightening since the author is stuck with her loud thoughts and alone.

The sea which stated earlier in the poem is for her some sort of hope which she can barely see. And when she is brought by a hook to where she thinks is the sea instead brings her to “a great space” looking out at nothing (Line 23-25). This is visual imagery that Plath uses to say she has come to an end (great space) and see’s no solution to her problem (nothing). The great space which is empty symbolizes a void in her soul/mind which she has reached. Indicating that she is fighting against this loneliness that haunts her but she realizes that she sees no hope when she reaches that great space.

This symbolism impacts the tone greatly since what Plath was afraid that she would have to face has finally come. On the other hand, Komunyakaa uses symbols in imagery to illustrate the impact it has on the overall tone. He exemplifies this when he says, “They left my hands like a printer’s” (Line 1). Komunyakaa uses visual imagery since his hands were left like a printer filled with ink. The stains on his hands meaning the stains of blackberry juice after picking so many of them in his work. This work he does which causes his hands to be stained puts him in a position where he is feeling ashamed.

Basically saying that he works hard and all he gets is stains meaning the traumas or scars that life leaves after an experience. At first, he see’s no problem with having stained hands since he has the mind of an innocent child who doesn’t care about being dirty. But after he realizes that in society image is of importance, he knows the rich kids make fun of him as “wintertime” coming from the window’s of their car hits him (Line 20). Wintertime symbolizes the cold look he gets from the children as if judging him for being poor and dirty while they are of high income and this shows tactile imagery.

This contributes to the tone of disillusionment since he is well aware now that society looks down at people like him and they are seen as dirty, worthless and this makes him feel guilty. After the car leaves he remembers he is dirty and his fingers are “burning with thorns” (Line 24). This as well is tactile imagery because his hands are feeling the burn from the thorns of blackberry vines. His fingers “burning with thorns” is symbolic of himself feeling exposed and ashamed that he is looked at as an inferior for being poor. This can also be an allusion to the Bible were Adam and Eve feel exposed because of their nudity.

This is where symbolism has the most impact because Komunyakaa lost his innocence and knows see’s the distinction between poor and rich. Finally, Plath and Komunyakaa use figurative language to establish symbols that impact the tone of the poems. Plath says she see’s a sea at the end of a path “heaving” meaning that the waves are moving (Line 3-4) The sea at the end of a path symbolizes hope for Plath which is what she wishes for. Plath feels scared and the only thing that can provide comfort for her is the sea which she hopes to get closer to.

Being in a forest alone contributes to a frightening tone however the sea is the solution for her. As she tries to get closer to the sea she finds herself “between two hills” and the wind hits her with its “phantom laundry” (Line 19-21). The figurative language she uses here is personification in which the wind hits her with the phantom laundry which are the leaves described as having ghost-like qualities. When Plath is hit by the leaves she realizes that she has to be practical and try to find a solution to her problems.

This phantom laundry can symbolize problems in her life which she has to overcome in order to find inner peace. It can also symbolize a ghost or something that haunts her which she has to overcome. This symbol contributes to a frightening tone because we get the image of her being in the woods with this wind that seems as if controlled by a ghost. Finally, when Plath reaches the end of her journey she finds herself in front of nothing “beating and beating at an intractable metal” (Line 27). Repetition is the figurative language Plath uses in this line.

Plath places emphasis on “beating and beating” as if stuck here in a void trying to get out but can’t because the “intractable metal” won’t let her. This intractable metal is symbolic of the fear or misery that doesn’t let her be happy and keeps her in a lonely state and this creates a frightening tone. By contrast, Komunyakaa uses figurative language to make symbols that contribute to his tone of disillusionment. He makes reference to the biblical symbols when he describes blackberries falling into a “garland of thorns” and in turn the “damp ground was consecrated” (Line 5-6).

The “garland of thorns” is symbolical of the crown of thorns on Jesus head and “consecrated” meaning that the blackberries made the ground holy. It’s as if Komunyakaa is saying that blackberries falling from heaven make the ground on Earth holy. This shows his innocence by saying that the work he does is a great job and he doesn’t see the bad side of it but later he finds out that his work is unappreciated. Then, when he says “I could smell old lime-covered History” he sort of knows that there is some sort of injustice but since he is a child he doesn’t understand the full meaning of this.

Komunyakaa alludes historical events in which the poor have been mistreated by the rich but his age makes him not understand this so well. He probably heard other adults talking about this but like any child they don’t really pay attention. It’s not until he experiences injustice for himself that he realizes how his people are mistreated which is why symbolism contributes to the disillusioned tone. Finally, this is how Plath and Komunyakaa use diction, imagery, and figurative language to establish symbols that impact the overall tone of the poems.

Basically, “Blackberrying” by Sylvia Plath uses symbols to make a frightening tone stating that she is alone and she looks for help but can’t find it. It’s her way of expressing her cry for help and desire to be loved and noticed. While in Komunyakaa “Blackberries” he uses a lot of religious symbols to show how his innocence is taken away by a society where the poor are worthless. The symbols impact the disillusioned tone by starting out with him having the innocence of a child. Then, being stuck in a limbo and finally experiencing for himself how it is to be mistreated by the rich.

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Blackberries Yusef Komunyakaa. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Blackberries Yusef Komunyakaa
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