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Strange Fruit

Page history last edited by Sarah Peterson 15 years, 5 months ago

Strange Fruit[1][2]


Here is the girl's head like an exhumed gourd.

Oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth.[3]


They unswaddled the wet fern of her hair

And made an exhibition of its coil,

Let the air at her leathery[4] beauty.

Pash of tallow, perishable treasure:

Her broken nose is dark as a turf clod,

[5]Her eyeholes blank as pools in the old workings[6].

Diodorus Siculus confessed[7]

His gradual ease with the likes of this:

Murdered[8], forgotten, nameless, terrible

Beheaded girl, outstaring axe

And beatification[9], outstaring

What had begun to feel like reverence.[10]


  1. "Strange Fruit" was originally written by a poet named Abel Meeropol as an "anti-lynching" poem. It was later adapted into a song by Billie Holiday. These words/lyrics were written to support the fight for Civil Rights. Additionally, the song "Strange Fruit" has been covered by artists such as Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley
  2. An interesting note is that the kiwi fruit is a very popular native fruit to China; it's name in Chinese (qiyi guo) literally translates to "strange fruit." The features of the kiwi fruit seems to have very striking connections to this poem. First, the "strange fruit" in the poem is obviously referring to the girl's head. What's interesting is that only female kiwi plants actually bear the kiwi fruit. In addition, the kiwi plant, like grapevines, undergo lots of pruning when they are grown. Here we see a play on the word "prune." In the poem, the word prune seems to be referring to a dried fruit. In respect to maintaining the kiwi plant, pruning takes on an alternate meaning of "cutting off superfluous things." This idea of "cutting" ties in very deeply to the image created by the poem of the girl's head being decapitated. It could be that Heaney is using the title "strange fruit" as an indirect reference to the kiwi fruit to metaphorically portray the whole image of the poem, or perhaps a lot of this is coincidence.
  3. In the first two couplets, Heaney shows his readers why he chose to create a title that is so unfitting with a poem of such dark images. The dead girl's head is being compared to "an exhumed gourd" as well as her facial features being described as "oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth." These features are all fruit related which metaphorizes the girl's head into a fruit-like object, hence the title "Strange Fruit." Note the irony that something as dead and lifeless as a head of a corpse is being metaphorized into something as fresh and full of life as a fruit.
  4. I believe that the author uses the word leathery to imply an object that is highly malleable and able to be formed into anything desired. The head in this case, is analogous to a fruit but because it is beheaded, it is object viewed not as a head anymore but as something natural. The head takes on an air of leathery beauty due to its naturality and inability to become artificial with respect to the natural world
  5. (Amanda) In the poem Strange Fruit, Heaney uses metaphors to describe the features of the girl's rotting body. In the first two lines of the poem we see that the girl's head is compared to an oversized, rotting gourd, her skin is compared to a leathery dried fruit: a prune, and her teeth are compared to stones. In the two lines above, more metaphors are put to use. Her eyeholes are described as gouged out and blank, filled with pools of liquid rather than with eyeballs. From the tone of these metaphors and the poem overall Heany illustrates that the girl is destroying with time.
  6. The description of her rotting corpse and its juxtaposition with beauty reflects Heaney’s love for bogs. He is an Irish poet who often writes about the beauty of boglands and its decomposing state out of Irish pride. This illustrates that to the killer, it was “beautification” even though not many would agree.
  7. Diodorus Siculus is a name of Greek historian from 1st century BC, who compiled the world history (fictional and historical) into 40 books. Although he recorded a tremendous amount of history, only a little is known about him. By borrowing his name, Heaney may be placing the poem in a historical context, albeit a much more modern one. As in his history books, a little is revealed about himself as he provides a second voice after the main speaker about the death of the unidentified girl. However, his “confession” of adjectives evokes inscriptions of an epitaph, contributing to the somber mood of this poem.
  8. Heaney's background provides significant information that puts the murder of this woman into context. Having grown up in Northern Ireland, Heaney is most likely drawing on the violence and atrocities that have occurred in Northern Ireland between the Nationalists and the Unionists. Raised as a Catholic, one can perhaps note the political tone supporting the Nationalists, and an end to the violence against the Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland by the British and Unionists,
  9. The word "beatification" here serves several purposes. First, in Roman Catholicism, beatification is an official declaration made by the pope that a deceased person is experiencing the bliss of heaven, and is likewise worthy of religious praise. This definition is ironic in the context of the following line (and the rest of the sentence) wherein Heaney gives reverence a sort of hierarchal position above beatification. This reference to catholicism is obviously a proclamation of heritage and tradition. Using "beatification" is ironic as well because, brilliantly, the word itself has the form of a word that would mean "the act of beating". IF you didn't know the definition, you might mistake it for a word that means something to do with being beat. So when she "outstares beatification" she seems to be beyond the beating in death. Beatification is also alarmingly similar to "beautification" which is both a process that happens after death for funerals, echoes line 5, and emphasizes the speaker's romantic description of her death.
  10. This last line refers back to the actions described in lines 3-6: unravelling the hair and putting it on display out in the open. In line 7 Heaney describes the girl's head as a "tallow, perishable treasure," a description often true of fruits as well because of the process of growing and harvesting them and their relatively short shelf life. The delicacy and care with which Diodorus Siculus, possibly one who helped create the exhibit, is akin to that of those who prepare fruit for marketing, preventing them from becoming bruised or rotting. This goal is ironic in this case because the girl has already been exposed to grotesque violence and decayed with the years, yet treating it "feels like reverence" to those who try to preserve some beauty in such a curiosity-provoking find.

Comments (1)

nomeaku@... said

at 10:20 pm on Nov 13, 2008

The description in this poem is reminiscent of a novel I read entitled The Things They Carried. The novel was about the Vietnam War and the things the soldiers carried physically and psychologically. There was a section where the author depicts the death of a soldier. The way he describes the image of the man blowing up made it seem like a beautiful and marvelous sight to behold, even though it is actually a gruesome scene.

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