eavan-boland

“My Country in Darkness” - Eavan Boland

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.

This is what language did to us. Here
is the wound, the silence, the wretchedness
of tides and hillsides and stars where

we languish in a grammar of sighs,
in the high-minded search for euphony,
in the midnight rhetoric of poesie.

We cannot sweat here. Our skin is icy.
We cannot breed here. Our wombs are empty.
Help us to escape youth and beauty.

Write us out of the poem. Make us human
in cadences of change and mortal pain
and words we can grow old and die in.

—  Eavan Boland, from “What Language Did" 
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.
—  Eavan Boland

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city - arches, pillars, colonades,
not to mention vehicles and animals - had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city -

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

—  “Atlantis - A Lost Sonnet,” Eavan Boland.
Atlantis - A Lost Sonnet

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city - arches, pillars, colonades,
not to mention vehicles and animals - had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city -

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it

Eavan Boland

A famous battle happened in this valley.
You never understood the nature poem.
Till now. Till this moment—if these statements
seem separate, unrelated, follow this

silence to its edge and you will hear
the history of air: the crispness of a fern
or the upward cut and turn around of
a fieldfare or thrush written on it.

The other history is silent: The estuary
is over there. The issue was decided here:
Two kings prepared to give no quarter.
Then one king and one dead tradition.

Now the humid dusk, the old wounds
wait for language, for a different truth:
When you see the silk of the willow
and the wider edge of the river turn

and grow dark and then darker, then
you will know that the nature poem
is not the action nor its end: it is
this rust on the gate beside the trees, on

the cattle grid underneath our feet,
on the steering wheel shaft: it is
an aftermath, an overlay and even in
its own modest way, an art of peace:

I try the word distance and it fills with
sycamores, a summer’s worth of pollen
And as I write valley straw, metal
blood, oaths, armour are unwritten.

Silence spreads slowly from these words
to those ilex trees half in, half out
of shadows falling on the shallow ford
of the south bank beside Yellow Island

as twilight shows how this sweet corrosion
begins to be complete: what we see
is what the poem says:
evening coming—cattle, cattle-shadows—

and whin bushes and a change of weather
about to change them all: what we see is how
the place and the torment of the place are
for this moment free of one another.

—  Eavan Boland

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 –
until now.
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
and 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.

Eavan Boland (2006)