Blueberries. Collection – North of Boston.  1915.

“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way   
To the village, through Patterson’s pasture to-day:    
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb, 
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum   
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!  
And all ripe together, not some of them green   
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”

“I don’t know what part of the pasture you mean.”

“You know where they cut off the woods—let me see—  
It was two years ago—or no!—can it be      
No longer than that?—and the following fall  
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall.”

“Why, there hasn’t been time for the bushes to grow.    
That’s always the way with the blueberries, though:   
There may not have been the ghost of a sign     
Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine, 
But get the pine out of the way, you may burn   
The pasture all over until not a fern   
Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick,    
And presto, they’re up all around you as thick     
And hard to explain as a conjuror’s trick.”

“It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.    
I taste in them sometimes the flavor of soot.  
And after all really they’re ebony skinned:     
The blue’s but a mist from the breath of the wind,    
A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,     
And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned.”

“Does Patterson know what he has, do you think?”

“He may and not care and so leave the chewink   
To gather them for him—you know what he is.    
He won’t make the fact that they’re rightfully his   
An excuse for keeping us other folk out.”

“I wonder you didn’t see Loren about.”

“The best of it was that I did. Do you know, 
I was just getting through what the field had to show     
And over the wall and into the road, 
When who should come by, with a democrat-load    
Of all the young chattering Lorens alive,
But Loren, the fatherly, out for a drive.”

“He saw you, then? What did he do? Did he frown?”

“He just kept nodding his head up and down.   
You know how politely he always goes by.  
But he thought a big thought—I could tell by his eye— 
Which being expressed, might be this in effect:  
‘I have left those there berries, I shrewdly suspect,      
To ripen too long. I am greatly to blame.’“

“He’s a thriftier person than some I could name.”

“He seems to be thrifty; and hasn’t he need, 
With the mouths of all those young Lorens to feed?   
He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say,    
Like birds. They store a great many away.    
They eat them the year round, and those they don’t eat 
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet.”

“Who cares what they say? It’s a nice way to live,    
Just taking what Nature is willing to give,      
Not forcing her hand with harrow and plow.”

“I wish you had seen his perpetual bow—    
And the air of the youngsters! Not one of them turned, 
And they looked so solemn-absurdly concerned.”

“I wish I knew half what the flock of them know      
Of where all the berries and other things grow, 
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top   
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.    
I met them one day and each had a flower    
Stuck into his berries as fresh as a shower;      
Some strange kind—they told me it hadn’t a name.”

“I’ve told you how once not long after we came,  
I almost provoked poor Loren to mirth 
By going to him of all people on earth   
To ask if he knew any fruit to be had   
For the picking. The rascal, he said he’d be glad   
To tell if he knew. But the year had been bad.  
There had been some berries—but those were all gone.
He didn’t say where they had been. He went on:  
‘I’m sure—I’m sure’—as polite as could be.   
He spoke to his wife in the door, ‘Let me see,  
Mame, we don’t know any good berrying place?’    
It was all he could do to keep a straight face.

“If he thinks all the fruit that grows wild is for him,     
He’ll find he’s mistaken. See here, for a whim,     
We’ll pick in the Pattersons’ pasture this year.  
We’ll go in the morning, that is, if it’s clear,   
And the sun shines out warm: the vines must be wet. 
It’s so long since I picked I almost forget  
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,    
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground,   
And saw nothing more of each other, or heard, 
Unless when you said I was keeping a bird   
Away from its nest, and I said it was you.     
‘Well, one of us is.’ For complaining it flew     
Around and around us. And then for a while 
We picked, till I feared you had wandered a mile,     
And I thought I had lost you. I lifted a shout  
Too loud for the distance you were, it turned out,     
For when you made answer, your voice was as low     
As talking—you stood up beside me, you know.”

“We shan’t have the place to ourselves to enjoy—   
Not likely, when all the young Lorens deploy.   
They’ll be there to-morrow, or even to-night.   
They won’t be too friendly—they may be polite—   
To people they look on as having no right     
To pick where they’re picking. But we won’t complain.
You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,     
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,   
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves.”

Conversational Style

In a great variety of ways all sixteen of the poems in this volume reproduce the tones of actual speech by a great range of characters or speakers. In the dramatic monologues and dialogues the “voice posturing” of his characters captures the “sound of sense” so skillfully in their tone and nuances that (as Frost aimed after 1895) he was able “to make it plain to the reader which character is saying the lines, without having to place his name before it, as is done in the drama.”

Read the complete article.

Blueberries is written in the form of a dialogue between two country neighbors. They talk about berries, berry picking and about another neighbor Loren. Frost uses dots and dashes to convey inflections. He uses dashes here to convey the speaker’s slow remembering.

“You know where they cut off the woods—let me see—  
It was two years ago—or no!—can it be      
No longer than that?—and the following fall  
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall.”

Imagery

Again, in common speech similes are used more often than metaphors. Frost’s characters talk of the fruit – full, succulent and ripened berries…

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb, 
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum   
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!  
And all ripe together, not some of them green   
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”

And after all really they’re ebony skinned:     
The blue’s but a mist from the breath of the wind,    
A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,     
And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned.”

You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,     
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,   
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves.”

Of berry-picking…

…we took one look round,    
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground,   
And saw nothing more of each other, or heard, 
Unless when you said I was keeping a bird   
Away from its nest, and I said it was you.     
‘Well, one of us is.’ For complaining it flew     
Around and around us. And then for a while 
We picked, till I feared you had wandered a mile,     
And I thought I had lost you. I lifted a shout  
Too loud for the distance you were, it turned out,     
For when you made answer, your voice was as low     
As talking—you stood up beside me, you know.”

Humor

Now conversations, especially among neighbors about neighbors do get mildly gossipy. How beautifully Frost captures this exaggerated dialogue and the underlying scorn.

He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say,    
Like birds. They store a great many away.    
They eat them the year round, and those they don’t eat 
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet.”

Or when they are wondering about the berries:

“It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.    
I taste in them sometimes the flavor of soot.

Yankee Characteristics

The peculiar personality traits and the reaction to life situations that the people of New England, the Yankees inherit and display seem to endear them to Frost. Frost is sometimes amused; sometimes shocked; sometimes in awe of, but overall very fond of these Yankees – a heritage of which he was very proud.

Respect for Nature: It is said that the chief crop of New England is stones. Poor soil and severe climate made the tasks of the farmer difficult but New England settlers were known for being self reliant and uncomplaining. Nature is neither a friend nor the enemy. Like Brown in Brown’s Descent ‘bowed with grace to natural law.’

… It’s a nice way to live,    
Just taking what Nature is willing to give,      
Not forcing her hand with harrow and plow.”

Knowledge: ‘The Need of Being Versed in Country Things’. Severe living conditions made New England inhabitants rely on common sense and perceptiveness.

“I wish I knew half what the flock of them know      
Of where all the berries and other things grow, 
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top   
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.

In Provide Provide, Frost said:

Some have relied on what they knew,
Others on being simply true,
What worked for them might work for you.

Thrift: Thrift is another recognized virtue of the Yankees. The dialogue between the two country neighbors involves Loren, who has several children and is so thrifty that,

“He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say,
Like birds. They store a great many away.
They eat them the year round, and those they don’t eat
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet.”


An Interesting Fact
: Did you know that Washington County, Maine, produces 85 percent of the world’s blueberries? For tours of blueberry farms and a wild blueberry festival in Maine, click here.



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