…how to explain that sometimes I can hear
the river in those first days of April, making
its way through the dusk, having learned
to speak the way I once spoke, saying as if I didn’t love you,
as if I wouldn’t have died for you.
Eavan Boland, from “The Room in Which My First Child Slept,” Poetry (October 2006)
After the wolves and before the elms the bardic order ended in Ireland.
Only a few remained to continue a dead art in a dying land:
This is a man on the road from Youghal to Cahirmoyle. He has no comfort, no food and no future. He has no fire to recite his friendless measures by. His riddles and flatteries will have no reward. His patrons sheath their swords in Flanders and Madrid.
Reader of poems, lover of poetry— in case you thought this was a gentle art follow this man on a moonless night to the wretched bed he will have to make:
The Gaelic world stretches out under a hawthorn tree and burns in the rain. This is its home, its last frail shelter. All of it— Limerick, the Wild Geese and what went before— falters into cadence before he sleeps: He shuts his eyes. Darkness falls on it.
Of one thing I am sure: There must have been other young women who read for their own protection. Who were agents of their own intimidation. Who chose poems, as I did, not because they brought them nearer to the life of feeling but because they removed them safely from it. Who felt that the power and distance of language would protect them from the limitations made ready for them.
It never mattered that there was once a vast grieving:
trees on their hillsides, in their groves, weeping –
a plastic gold dropping
through seasons and centuries to the ground –
On this fine September afternoon from which you are absent
I am holding, as if my hand could store it,
an ornament of amber
you once gave me.
Reason says this:
the dead cannot see the living.
The living will never see the dead again.
The clear air we need to find each other in is
gone forever, yet
this resin once
collected seeds, leaves and even small feathers as it fell
which now in a sunny atmosphere seem as alive as
they ever were
as though the past could be present and memory itself
a Baltic honey –
a chafing at the edges of the seen, a showing-off of just how much
can be kept safe
inside a flawed translucence.