Eavan Boland is my favourite modern poet. There are many reasons for my positive response to her poems. What I love about Boland’s work is how revolutionary it is. Jody Allen Randolph, the American critic, once said that Boland “single-handedly challenged what was a heavily male-dominated profession”. What really appeals to me about Boland’s work is how she offers me fresh insight on old topics. In particular I like her reflections on love and relationships, the polemical/political dimension to her work and also the unique voice she has in Irish poetry: lending fresh input on old Irish topics, such as the Famine. Although I thoroughly enjoy Boland’s diverse range of themes, it is also the way in which she presents these themes to the reader which appeals to me. I find her poetry has an evocative, warm and lyrical quality with an impressing economy of language. I love how she uses banalities as symbols for emotions and ideas that otherwise would be completely ineffable. I also find her poetry contains suspense and tension of the best narrative.
Boland’s reflection on relationships is one of my favourite aspects of her poetry. In the poem “Love”, Boland chronicles the deep elemental love between her and her husband, Kevin. This poem is incredibly personal: “I am your wife” “I see you as a hero in a text” “We love each other”. This poem really has an impact on me. When I read it, I really couldn’t get over its power. Boland really emphasises the deep, elemental and transcendent love between them: “It offered us ascension”. I find these lines incredibly powerful. In “Object Lessons” Boland says “when you write about love, you begin by writing about people and end up writing about time”. The poems beauty in my view is augmented by how Boland blends tenses in this poem. She uses the present “Dark falls”, the past: “love had”, past participles which can act also as adjectives “touched” and the future “Will we ever love so intensely again”. I believe this aspect of Boland’s “Love” creates a beautiful and transcendent poem which is, in my view among Boland’s best. Also in “The Pomegranete”, Boland shares another deeply personal relationship, the story of “a daughter”. However, what I really love in this poem is how Boland takes a personal relationship and lends it universal relevance by employing icons of youth culture “her can of coke”, “teen magazines”.
W.H. Auden once praised Adrienne Rich for poems that “speak quietly but do not mumble”. However, in my view, this quote would be truer of Boland’s work. I just love how Boland writes poetry with a political flavour. I think “The War Horse” is a prime example of this trait. In this dual-narrative, Boland charts the journey of a horse which escaped “from the tinker camp on the Enniskerry Road” However, I am led to believe the underlying current in this poem is a reflection on the apathy and almost disinterest of people in the Republic to the “Troubles” in the North. “Neighbourhoods use the subterfuge of curtains”, “only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn”. This is one of the key aspects of Boland’s poetry for me. Boland writes poems that speak, speak without shouting.
Boland’s voice really makes me listen. The message in “The Famine Road” really interests and horrifies me. Although there has been a myriad of poems and a wealth of literature produced on this topic, Boland gives a different view on this issue. Boland takes two situations in this poem and junxtaposes them marvellously. One deals with the flippant attitude of the English oppressors: “These Irish/ Give them no coins at all”, “could they not blood their knuckles on rock, suck April hailstones for water and for food?”. I find this poem shocking. It is also a unique perspective on the Irish situation. Another detail here which haunts my memory is “I saw bones out of my carriage window”. However, the most shocking image in the poem occurs when Boland writes “Each eyed, as if at a corner butcher, the other’s buttock”. This, in my view, amounts almost to a Swiftian allusion and really highlights the horror of this incredibly clever poem. If I was to make one cricism of this poem it would be that the shift in tone which is symbolized by italicised stanzas is perhaps too forced, too obvious. However, this didn’t detract from or diminish in any way my enjoyment of the poem.
Although I can engage easily with Boland’s themes, it is also her unique craft that has am impact on me. One of the reasons Boland’s poems appeal to me is their warm, lyrical and evocative quality. This, I feel is best illustrated in Boland’s fantastic lyric, “This Moment” which is in fact my favourite Boland poem of all time. I just love how evocative the opening is: “A Neighbourhood. /At Dusk. ”. My favourite image would have to be the warm image of domestic life that Boland presents: “One tree is black / One window is as yellow as butter”. There is in my opinion a wonderful, lyrical quality to this image which renders it one of the most quotable of Boland’s poetry. “Love” appeals to me on a similar level. The opening lines are for me, astonishing for the sheer economy of language “Dark falls on this mid western town, Dusk has hidden the bridge”. These lines have the effect of brining me into the word of the poem, into Boland’s world. This is why Eavan Boland is my favourite modern poet,
I also feel that there is a universal appeal to Boland’s work because of her use of banalities to lend a distinct relevance to her own personal concerns and experiences. Boland makes excellent use of symbol in “The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me”. Boland views the fan as a manifestation of the love between her parents: “It was stifling”. Boland once noted in “Object Lessons” that “Ordinary Objects seemed to remind (Boland) that although the body may share this world, it does not own it”. The description of the fan is wonderful “These are wild roses, appliquéd on silk by hand /darkly picked, stiched boldy, quickly”. The detail here is unbelievable. This is why Boland’s poetry is special to me: her ability to describe objects and to invest them with universal relevance and significance.
Finally I love Boland’s poetry for its suspense and tension. It has a unique narrative quality which renders it unforgettable in my view. The ending of “The Pommegranete” is brilliant for these reasons. “And to her lips/ I will say nothing” This caesura is absolutely wonderful for its tension and suspense. In fact, in this context I believe this particular poem to be the best narrative poem on my course. “The only story I have ever loved / is the story of a daughter lost in hell”, “I can enter it anywhere” ”If I defer the grief, I will diminish the gift”. Boland here comments on her role as a mother and I believe it is the honesty at the core of the poem that speaks to me. It is wonderful for its suspense and tension and really in my view is an epithet for the beauty of Boland.
In conclusion, Eavan Boland’s poetry appeals to me for a plethora of different reasons: It’s reflections on relationships and love, its fresh voice and its polemical/ political dimension appeal to me. Boland presents wonderfully evocative poems which really speak to me. I feel there is an economy ion her language. I really enjoy how Boland invests small objects with significance and finally, most of all, I love how Boland writes poems which contain the suspense and tension of the best narrative. I find her narrative enthralling. If I was to sum up what Boland’s poetry means to me, I would make use of that quote of Keats’ “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle or amaze itself with itself, but with it’s subject”.
Rhyme & Form: Internal Rhyme, End sounds rhyme..
Tone: Shock, Regretful, Angry,
Imagery: Song, Language, Broken body of the child, Nursery, Empty Cradle
Themes: Political Violence, Motherhood, Dealing with Evil [of war]
Poetic Techniques: Repetition, Personification, Alliteration
The features of the this poem are important to interpreting what Boland is saying. Take a look at how the end sounds rhyme: ‘y’, ‘der’, ‘y’, ‘n’, ‘er’, ‘n’ in the first stanza. Broken down this way we can see that the first sound rhymes with the third, the second with the fifth and the fourth with the sixth. The rhyming in the second stanza is similar, but the lines correspond in a different way: the first with the fourth, the second with the fifth and third with the sixth. There is also rhyming in the third, but the end sounds match differently again. Therefore the rhyme scheme is a blend of rhyme and discord, like the image from line five. It links with the theme that out of violence we must build healing and new harmony, not anarchy and chaos.
The tone must also be considered: overall the tone is shocked, but with a sense that it is up to us to do something about it. There is a sense of deep hurt conveyed in the last line of the second stanza: ‘you dead’. The first stanza has a sad, regretful tone while there is anger in the use of the word ‘murder’. The images of caring for a child in the second stanza are conveyed in a tone of tenderness. The second stanza contains a sense of urgency about learning from the devastating atrocity. In the final stanza, the tone is pleading and positive. The poet accuses us all of robbing his [Aengus] cradle, but speaks softly of healing. Yet the repetition of the word ‘broken’ seems to carry an immense amount of grief.
Boland also uses quite an interested word in line eleven: idiom, which is a particular form of speech. The background to the poem is that it was written in response to the death of a child killed in a Dublin bombing in May ’74. Boland may also have been prompted by a newspaper photograph showing a fireman tenderly lifting a dead child from the debris. Twenty-two people died and a hundred were injured in this attack. When Boland was working on this poem, a friend’s baby died a cot death and this is the Aengus mentioned in the dedication. Boland combines two very different but still terrible deaths in the one poem and manages to write a poem in response to the sudden and unexpected deaths of all children. It was published in the Irish Times in May 1974.
The Child Of Our Time was killed in a bombing in Dublin in 1974, such a public catastrophe ensures that this child was a victim of our time – in the real sense of the word and in the sense of the world that we live in. If we consider the title for a moment we can dwell on what a child should mean – life, love, enjoyment and a tomorrow but as we read on we see that this poem is speaking of the opposite. What is interesting to note is that Boland had not yet had her children when she wrote this poem and yet her feelings portray the feelings of mothers world-wide (in fact can anyone feel anything but remorse when contemplating the death of an innocent child?). Boland begins the poem by mentioning a lullaby:
Yesterday I knew no lullaby
A lullaby is meant to be sung to a child to lull he/she to sleep, to bring peace and soothe the baby – yesterday (16 May 1974) a lullaby was unknown to Boland (alluding to her not being a mother yet) but today (17 May 1974) calls for a different kind of song and perhaps a lullaby that Boland was not expecting – such a dreadful lullaby that sent both babies to their deaths.
You have taught me overnight to order
This song, which takes from your final cry
Its tune, from your unreasoned end its reason
The child’s ‘final cry’ is painful, confused and full of anguish; Boland feels that she must make a new song if only to alleviate the suffering of the child’s family. Boland decides that she must make the ‘song[‘s]’ reason from the child’s ‘unreasoned end’. The word ‘discord’ is not used here for ease of rhyming, in fact the full meaning of the word discordant is: (of sounds) harsh and jarring because of a lack of harmony : bombs, guns, and engines mingled in discordant sound. Boland realises that something must be said about this incident and taking her poem’s rhythm from the ‘discord of your murder’ she is able to voice her protests and concerns and even speak for the child who can no longer ‘listen’. Another note of interest is the word ‘murder’ – if we were to go off on a tangent and use a similar-sounding word like mother – what images do we get if we consider of the discord of the child’s mother?
Even though Boland writes about a public catastrophe her tone is not distant, yes it is formal but the reason for this lack of distance is due to the fact that Boland also writes about the death of one of her friend’s children. The fact that Boland writes about the death of a child she has never known can account for the rhyme-scheme: they are slanted or half-rhymes and this prevents the poem from becoming melodious, given the subject-matter this is appropriate and quite intelligent on the poet’s half.
Boland brings us, the readers, into the poem in the second stanza and as in The War Horse, she feels that we are all at fault for something:
We who should have known how to instruct
With rhymes for your waking, rhythms for your sleep,
Names for the animals you took to bed,
Tales to distract, legends to protect,
It is we (the adults, community, the public) who have failed to create a safe environment for our children. Boland instructs us on how best to create this world: with songs, lullabies, names for teddies and bed-time stories. But the reality is that this world that Boland speaks of would vanish in an instant if threatened, much like the world of the children who died, either by bomb or by cot death. Even though the poet is speaking on behalf of parents here, we can assume that the parents of the dead child did instruct their son or daughter in this way, and if we were to speculate more we could say that such things came up in the conversations between Boland and the parents of the child who suffered the cot death. Thus neither circumstance is safe; be it the child who was killed in an unexpected manner via the cot or the child who was involved in the bombing – the fact that we cannot guarantee safety makes this poem all the more frightening. Political beliefs about Ireland are based on violence: it is obvious that the ‘legends’ that the bombers believe in do not ‘protect’ the innocent.
Boland mentions an ‘idiom’ – the lullaby and the fairytales would later give way to a particular language, a way of speaking that the child would inherit and retain as he/she grew up:
Later and idiom for you to keep
And living, learn
The child’s right to life and speech, the natural course of events has been destroyed by a sudden, violent death. Boland is able then to see herself in the light of the dead child:
And living, must learn from you, dead,
To make our broken images rebuild
Themselves around your limbs, your broken
Boland realises that we must rebuild our broken lives – as Boland mentioned earlier, her ideas of raising children through rhyme and tale were shattered when she discovered that all these things are worthless if we cannot ensure safety for our children – her world was shattered but only momentarily. It is the broken image of the child that inspires hope within the poet to begin to rebuild again. Boland finishes her poem with contemplating the way forward and she speaks of a new language:
…find for your sake whose life our idle
Talk has cost, a new language. Child
Of our time, our times have robbed your cradle.
The ‘our’ mentioned here implicates the poet and the reader in the child’s death. Boland explores the relationship between the ‘our’, the ‘we’ and the ‘I’ – the public and private voices. Boland began with ‘I’ (she had no lullaby), in the second stanza she discusses ‘We’ and by the final verse Boland is searching for a new language to replace ‘our’ idle talk. It is important to note that nowhere does she discuss the real motives for the bombing – sectarianism or politics. In fact Boland mentions no place-names, no person’s name nor does she attempt to explain the political circumstances of the bomb or the implications of patriotism. By using this type of poetic elusiveness, one act of violence becomes a symbol for every act of violence where innocent people are killed. But Boland does want us to take some sort of responsibility here – there is a need for the useless, empty talk to be replaced with a language which may prevent a bomb from exploding or a child from dying. Even though this child has been robbed, if a new language can be found then that child’s death was not in vain. Society needs to learn a new language if it is to change the minds of people like the killers who set the bombs in Dublin. Boland regards the beliefs of the a certain group of society (where there can be no political advancement in Ireland without violence) as evil, as causes of the ‘murder’ of the child. The bomb led to a child’s death for no reason. Now society must learn from the death of this innocent child. Society must wake up to what it has done or what it has allowed to happen. Boland doesn’t say we need new laws or more police. She says we need to get rid of stupid political slogans and ideas. We need to get rid of our ‘idle talk’, our false ‘idioms’ [Perhaps she is thinking of phrases like ‘up the RA’ and ‘Brits Out’]. She realises that we have all made the bomber who he is, with our attitudes and our talk. The dead child is the ‘cost’, the price paid for such idle talk. We need fundamental change. She doesn’t talk of punishment. We need to think out new political ideas, based on caring for children, not killing them in the name of a political slogan or belief. We need to wake up and build new images to inspire us. Perhaps our images from history are the ‘broken images’ we need to re-make in a new way.
The final line of the poem is one of hope and prayer:
Sleep in a world your final sleep has woken
The initial image here is of the child awakening in a world where it will sleep peacefully and undisturbed – heaven? Is Boland admitting that even with a ‘new language’ we cannot achieve a utopia in this world? Or if we read it another way we could interpret it as the child’s final sleep has woken the world up to an awareness of a need for change – the ‘new language’. Is Boland hoping for the child to be able to sleep in a world that has no violence or terrorism? As in War Horse, Boland is not over-sentimental here, she may be angry or shocked but her feelings are certainly not down on paper. As a poet she uses the tool that makes her that, a poet needs language to be able to write poetry and Boland is hoping that this tool, this new language can bring about and end to the deaths of innocents.
The poet realises that it is the adult’s job to teach the child, but in fact it is the child that has taught the adults a lesson:
And living, learn, must learn from you dead