It rained when it should have snowed.
When we went to gather holly
the ditches were swimming, we were wet
to the knees, our hands were all jags
and water ran up our sleeves.
There should have been berries
but the sprigs we brought into the house
gleamed like smashed bottle-glass.
Now here I am, in a room that is decked
with the red-berried, waxy-leafed stuff,
and I almost forget what it’s like
to be wet to the skin or longing for snow.
I reach for a book like a doubter
and want it to flare round my hand,
a black-letter bush, a glittering shield-wall
cutting as holly and ice.
I’ve just started studying Seamus Heaney as a lesson in meter and enjambment. I have never considered myself to be very good at picking out meter, but I think I get so caught up in the logistics that I forget to just listen to the sound of a poem. This happens especially if I’m trying to write in a particular meter. I say all that to say this: listen to the sound of this poem and pay attention to the line breaks. I could talk about syllables all day, but just read the poem slowly. There’s a bit of a song to parts of this poem. Many of these lines are fantastic if they’re read by themselves: “It rained when it should have snowed,” “to the knees, our hands were all jags,” “gleamed like smashed bottle-glass,” and “to be wet to the skin or longing for snow.” I think I’ve been paying attention to the individual line a lot lately because in a poem you try to pack as much punch as you can with each word. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten to also consider the poem as a whole, but it’s interesting to play around and see what kind of breaks and single lines I can come up with.
Plus, I like to listen to him read. Visit the Poetry Foundation to watch a video of him reading his poem “Blackberry Picking.”