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Comparing Hass’s Two Poems on Blackberries

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The image of blackberries appears not infrequently in Robert Hass’s poetry. In this essay, a comparative analysis of two of his poems dealing with this notion is undertaken, in order to understand the implications of a blackberries’ symbolism for the author.

The first of the two poems, “Meditation at Lagunitas”, purports to express a vision of a protagonist’s grief at the inherently deconstructive nature of modern philosophical thinking. Remarking that “All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking” (Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas”), the protagonist is drawn to his memories of the old love interest to a woman he “felt a violent wonder” at (“Meditation at Lagunitas”). The subsequent imagery of “childhood image” and “island willows” is presented as the contrast to a dry and abstract philosophy according to which “the clown-faced woodpecker is... / some tragic falling off from a first world / of undivided light” (“Meditation at Lagunitas”).

Similarly, the second poem by Hass, “Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan”, contraposes “the word juice” (i.e. the real presence of a blackberry juice” to philosophical speculations on “subject and object  / and the mediation of desire” the characters have indulged in before deciding to pick some blackberries (“Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan”). The nostalgic reminiscences of “twenty years ago / and raspberries and Vermont” are opposed to the bookish disputations “about L’Histoire de la vérité” (“Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan”).

Therefore, both poems express the same idea, albeit from different angle; the former deals with love and longing, the latter with friendship and nostalgia. However, the protagonists of both are in agreement on the superiority of active life over the purely contemplative one. 

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