Leaving Certificate Poetry – Eavan Boland

A long long time ago (I can still remember…*ahem*) I had to study a number of poems for my Leaving Certificate (read A Level equivalents) examinations. Up until this point; I had enjoyed poetry but rarely read it for fun, preferring somewhat easier and more accessible fiction (utterly buying into the myth that poetry was somehow hard, irrelevant or distant  from everyday life).These were my first contemporary poems and poets. The selection were electrifying and these poems – combined with a passionate and enthusiastic teacher – awoke something within me. It’s a wonderful moment when a person realises that you don’t have to ‘get’ poetry to love it. Just knowing that every experience can be both a unique and shared one is a powerful thing.

Eavan Boland was one of the triumvirate of ‘Irish’ poets that we studied.
Born in Dublin in 1944; at the age of six she moved to London with her family, encountering vehement anti-Irish racism. This experience only intensified her sense of identity (as a proud Irish woman); a theme that she frequently returns to in her writing.

Returning to Ireland to complete her education; Boland was published by the age of twenty. She is a composer who reveals in the details of everyday life – finding the magic within the mundane – and uses everything from politics and history to her life as a mother and a wife to inform her writings.

She currently divides her time between Dublin and Palo Alto.

Child Of Our Time – Justice for the Forgotten
Yesterday I knew no lullaby
But you have taught me overnight to order
This song, which takes from your final cry
Its tune, from your unreasoned end its reason;
Its rhythm from the discord of your murder,
Its motive from the fact you cannot listen.
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,
Later an idiom for you to keep
And living, learn, must learn from you, dead.
To make our broken images rebuild
Themselves around your limbs, your broken
Image, find for your sake whose life our idle
Talk has cost, a new language. Child
Of our time, our times have robbed your cradle.
Sleep in a world your final sleep has woken.
The Pomegranate
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere.  And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted.  Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
                    It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate!  How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and 
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry.  I could warn her.  There is still a chance.
The rain is cold.  The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world.  But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.  
She will enter it.  As I have.
She will wake up.  She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips.  I will say nothing.
The Shadow Doll 
(This was sent to the bride-to-be in Victorian times, by her dressmaker. It consisted of a porcelain doll, under a dome of glass, modeling the proposed wedding dress.)

They stitched blooms from ivory tulle
to hem the oyster gleam of the veil.
They made hoops for the crinoline.

Now, in summary and neatly sewn —
a porcelain bride in an airless glamour —
the shadow doll survives its occasion.

Under glass, under wraps, it stays
even now, after all, discreet about
visits, fevers, quickenings and lusts

and just how, when she looked at
the shell-tone spray of seed pearls,
the bisque features, she could see herself

inside it all, holding less than real
stephanotis, rose petals, never feeling
satin rise and fall with the vows

I kept repeating on the night before —
astray among the cards and wedding gifts —
the coffee pots and the clocks and

the battered tan case full of cotton
lace and tissue paper, pressing down, then
pressing down again. And then, locks.

The War Horse

This dry night, nothing unusual
About the clip, clop, casual


Iron of his shoes as he stamps death
Like a mint on the innocent coinage of earth.


I lift the window, watch the ambling feather
Of hock and fetlock, loosed from its daily tether


In the tinker camp on the Enniskerry Road,
Pass, his breath hissing, his snuffling head


Down. He is gone. No great harm is done.
Only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn—


Of distant interest like a maimed limb,
Only a rose which now will never climb


The stone of our house, expendable, a mere
Line of defence against him, a volunteer


You might say, only a crocus, its bulbous head
Blown from growth, one of the screamless dead.


But we, we are safe, our unformed fear
Of fierce commitment gone; why should we care


If a rose, a hedge, a crocus are uprooted
Like corpses, remote, crushed, mutilated?


He stumbles on like a rumour of war, huge
Threatening. Neighbours use the subterfuge


Of curtains. He stumbles down our short street
Thankfully passing us. I pause, wait,


Then to breathe relief lean on the sill
And for a second only my blood is still
The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me
It was the first gift he ever gave her,
buying it for five five francs in the Galeries
in pre-war Paris. It was stifling.
A starless drought made the nights stormy.

They stayed in the city for the summer.
The met in cafes. She was always early.
He was late. That evening he was later.
They wrapped the fan. He looked at his watch.

She looked down the Boulevard des Capucines.
She ordered more coffee. She stood up.
The streets were emptying. The heat was killing.
She thought the distance smelled of rain and lightning.

These are wild roses, appliqued on silk by hand,
darkly picked, stitched boldly, quickly.
The rest is tortoiseshell and has the reticent clear patience
of its element. It is
a worn-out, underwater bullion and it keeps,
even now, an inference of its violation.
The lace is overcast as if the weather
it opened for and offset had entered it.

The past is an empty cafe terrace.
An airless dusk before thunder. A man running.
And no way to know what happened then—
none at all—unless ,of course, you improvise:

The blackbird on this first sultry morning,
in summer, finding buds, worms, fruit,
feels the heat. Suddenly she puts out her wing—
the whole, full, flirtatious span of it.

The actual lace fan gift



Dark falls on this mid-western town
where we once lived when myths collided.
Dusk has hidden the bridge in the river
which slides and deepens
to become the water
the hero crossed on his way to hell.

Not far from here is our old apartment.
We had a kitchen and an Amish table.
We had a view. And we discovered there
love had the feather and muscle of wings
and had come to live with us,
a brother of fire and air.
We had two infant children one of whom
was touched by death in this town
and spared: and when the hero
was hailed by his comrades in hell
their mouths opened and their voices failed and
there is no knowing what they would have asked
about a life they had shared and lost.

I am your wife.
It was years ago.
Our child was healed. We love each other still.
Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances
we speak plainly. We hear each other clearly.

And yet I want to return to you
on the bridge of the Iowa river as you were,
with snow on the shoulders of your coat
and a car passing with its headlights on:

I see you as a hero in a text —
the image blazing and the edges gilded —
and I long to cry out the epic question
my dear companion:
Will we ever live so intensely again?
Will love come to us again and be
so formidable at rest it offered us ascension
even to look at him?

But the words are shadows and you cannot hear me.
You walk away and I cannot follow 


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