What Makes Great Poetry — A Brief Analysis of Yusef Komunyakaa’s Blackberries

A poem from a poet worth checking out, if you haven’t done so already, Yusef Komunyakaa’s Blackberries speaks deeply to me. I’m a huge fan of the Romantic era and writers like Walt Whitman, so I have a penchant for spiritual diction in nature imagery. I especially appreciate how Komunyakaa weaves words like “consecrated” and “forgiveness” into the poem and how the phrase, “I ate the mythology” not only appeals to the senses, but could be an allusion to the eucharist sacrament. The literal and Christian imagery evoked in the word “thorns” in the first and third stanza elegantly portray the emotional journey through the narrator’s loss of innocence to the duality of the world. Yusef Komunyakaa’s Blackberries achieves what Roger Housden refers to as “a making of language spells” in its mystical and transformative closing line, “Burning with thorns among berries too ripe to touch.” “I knew that great poetry has the power to start a fire in a person’s life,” Housden said. Komunyakaa ignites a fire beneath the senses for the heartache of the narrator through the pain of being misunderstood, judged and left out by those who do not understand, or are jealous of his connection with the earth. The juxtaposition of the icy winter in the car with imagery like, “The mud frogs/ In rich blackness, hid from daylight” and “Limboed between worlds” conveys deep meaning in the feelings of racism, classism and binary opposition — the separation of humans from the earth, salvation and one another. I am in awe of the vivid story and depth created in the movement of Komunyakaa’s poetry.

Blackberries by Yusef Komunyakaa

They left my hands like a printer’s 
Or thief’s before a police blotter 
& pulled me into early morning’s 
Terrestrial sweetness, so thick 
The damp ground was consecrated 
Where they fell among a garland of thorns.

Although I could smell old lime-covered 
History, at ten I’d still hold out my hands 
& berries fell into them. Eating from one 
& filling a half gallon with the other, 
I ate the mythology & dreamt 
Of pies & cobbler, almost

Needful as forgiveness. My bird dog Spot 
Eyed blue jays & thrashers. The mud frogs 
In rich blackness, hid from daylight. 
An hour later, beside City Limits Road 
I balanced a gleaming can in each hand, 
Limboed between worlds, repeating one dollar. 

The big blue car made me sweat. 
Wintertime crawled out of the windows. 
When I leaned closer I saw the boy 
& girl my age, in the wide back seat 
Smirking, & it was then I remembered my fingers 
Burning with thorns among berries too ripe to touch.