W.S. Merwin’s ‘Blueberries After Dark’ is a short, thoughtful poem in which the poet relays a memory of his youth.
‘Blueberries After Dark’ by W.S. Merwin can be found in The Shadow of Sirius, Merwin’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection. The collection is noted for its departure from Merwin’s earlier work. There are fewer examples of end-stopped lines, punctuation in general, and the poems in this collection are on average shorter than those found in his other works. ‘Blueberries After Dark’ is one of the many poems in the collection that generally considered to be based around Merwin’s personal memories.
After winning the Pulitzer Prize for this collection, the committee described the book’s content as: “luminous, often-tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory.” This collection is considered to be one of the most autobiographical of his career.
Explore Blueberries After Dark
In the first lines of this poem, the poet describes blueberries at night, the taste of the experience, and what he learned from his mother. She told him directly that he’s not “afraid of the dark.” Instead, he learned over time, people are afraid of deeper, all-consuming loss such as that which his mother experienced throughout her life. She lost almost all the important people in her life, defining for the poet what there truly is to fear. She knew that the dark wasn’t what one should be afraid of.
You can read the full poem‘Blueberries After Dark’ here.
Merwin engages with themes of loss and darkness in ‘Blueberries After Dark.’ The image of a child eating blueberries after dark is a light and nostalgic one, one that is contrasted with the fear he used to have of that same darkness. The poet speaks briefly on these topics, preferring instead to spend far more time on his mother’s loss. He emphasizes the latter through repetition, ensuring the reader quickly becomes aware of how powerful and unending these losses were. It’s this true fear, sorrow, and darkness that’s juxtaposed against a child’s fear of the dark and the image of eating blueberries.
Structure and Form
‘Blueberries After Dark’ by W.S. Merwin is a twenty-line poem that is divided into two stanzas of three lines, one of two, and one final stanza of twelve lines. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They also have no punctuation allowing the reader to flow freely from line to line without any necessary pauses.
Despite the fact that Merwin wrote this piece in free verse, readers should be able to find a few very effective examples of half-rhyme within the lines. For example, “tastes” and “late” in the first stanza. There is also an example of a perfect end rhyme at the ends of lines seven and eight with “know” and “ago.”
Merwin makes use of several literary devices in ‘Blueberries After Dark.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, alliteration, imagery, and anaphora. The first of these is a formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines nine, ten, and eleven. Readers don’t have to go far to find many more examples of this technique at work in ‘Blueberries After Dark.’
Alliteration and anaphora are both types of repetition. The first is concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “tastes” and “time” in lines one and two and “little later” in line fifteen. Anaphora occurs when the same word or words are used at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, in the last twelve lines, the poet uses “and” at the beginning of four lines. This technique allows each line to build upon the next. The emphasis ensures the reader isn’t going to miss how important these statements are individually and when read together.
Imagery is one of the most important literary devices that a poet can make use of. It occurs when the writer creates particularly effective descriptions, ones that encourage the reader to imagine the scene with multiple senses. The best examples evoke sounds, tastes, smells, and more. For example, the first three lines of the poem read:
So this is the way the night tastes
one at a time
not early or late
In these lines, the poet is experiencing what “night tastes” like. When considered along with the title, the reader is left with the image of night possibly tasting like blueberries in addition to the emotions he relays in the next lines. There is an interesting element of synesthesia in these lines. Suggesting that night is evocative of usual sensory experiences.
So this is the way the night tastes
one at a time
how did she know
so long ago
In the first lines of the poem, the poet begins by creating a “hook,” or a line that is meant to draw the reader in. This particular line starts a statement about how “night tastes.” This unusual combination of experiences should inspire the reader to continue through the lines. While the text of the poem doesn’t exactly make sense of the statement, the title adds something to it. The poet has already told the reader (through the title) that he’s going to be eating blueberries after dark. It’s this experience that is connected to the taste of night itself.
The following lines are also suggestive of eating blueberries, “one at a time / not early or late.” These lines are followed up with the first reference to the poet’s mother. She comes into the poem suddenly but her influence on the poet’s life is clearly tied to his experience of the night. She told him, as a child, that he “was not afraid of the dark.” When he thought this over and looked around him he realized that it wasn’t the dark he was afraid of.
When speaking about this poem, Merwin recalled how “fear of the dark” was only one thing his mother told him he wasn’t afraid of. They were “great gifts” she gave him, he says. Before explaining why his mother knows so much about the “dark” and how she was able to define it for him differently, he questions her knowledge “how did she know,” he says. The next line, “so long ago,” leads into the final stanza that defines for the reader what kind of person the poet’s mother was.
with her father dead
almost before she could remember
and her mother following him
gone as soon
as he was born
The final twelve lines are significantly darker than those which came before them. Now, the “dark” of the night changes. It’s no longer at all intimidating. The poet describes for the reader the kind of experiences that made his mother into the person she was. She lost numerous members of her family when she was young. They seemingly died one after another until she lost her “firstborn.” These tragedies, which included the deaths of her mother, father, grandmother, and only brother, are an example of what people truly have to fear in life. It’s not the “dark” we are scared of but what the dark portends.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Blueberries After Dark’ should also consider reading some of Merwin’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘Early One Morning’ —in this short poem, Merwin describes what it’s like to be an older man looking back on his youth. There are feelings of nostalgia as well as regret.
- ’To the New Year’— is dedicated to the coming new year. The poem focuses on how important individual moments are in one’s life and the feeling of a New Year. It makes things possible.
Another related poem is:
- ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ by William Wordsworth–about growing up and the adult losing a child’s connection to nature.