Friday, February 03, 2006

Poetry Friday - Eavan Boland

I first encountered the poetry of Eavan Boland when she did a reading at my university when I was an undergraduate. It was the mid-90s, and I was minoring in writing and we were required to attend a certain number of poetry readings. I pretty much hated being required to attend poetry readings, though I realize now that I've been to a good number of them. I'm bad at them. Kind of in exactly the same way that I'm bad at sitting through conference papers. At poetry readings, my mind wanders, and I become irritated by the way poets so often

read in that wAY
that lilts uP
at the end of every liNE

in that breathy voice that takes the sense from the lines. At conferences, my mind wanders, and I become irritated by jargon that takes the sense from any argument. The same thing really. In that way, I suppose, poetry is not so different from criticism, at least as I experience it in person. At any rate, one of the poets whom I saw read while I was in college was Eavan Boland. And she was amazing, and I fell in love with her poetry. I think I was supposed to see her read again a couple of years ago in Ireland, during the centennial celebration of Bloomsday. (Happy belated birthday to good old JJ, incidentally, whom I forgot to mention yesterday). Part of me wishes I'd have seen her read again, but a bigger part knows I made the right choice in doing whatever it was that I was doing (which I suspect included some sort of non-attendance of the reading in order to drink Guinness or whiskey or something).

"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.


Anonymous said...

I don't know this poet, but I like this poem very much. except using the roman ceres with the greek persephone jars me.

Dr. Crazy said...

I actually really like the juxtaposition of the two, but I think it may be because of another poem by Boland called "The Science of Cartography is Limited" in which she compares her daughters to Ireland.... the country that she cannot have back.... Something about putting the greek and roman names against one another makes me think of how mothers and daughters can feel like they are separate countries, and to me that fits with the myth that she references here. Sorry if I'm not being tremendously articulate - I just finished a couple of hours of meetings and it's been a long week. But I'm happy I could introduce you to Boland. She really is spectacular.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh wait - that's not the poem I meant.... it's actually called "The Lost Land" (I always confuse them because I teach them both in the Survey of Brit Lit II)

Charity said...

Hmmm. That's wonderful.

Masterfraud said...

Another reason to heart Dr. Crazy...

Axis of Peter said...

I love your taste in poems. You do a great Poetry Friday.

I'd add that the juxtaposition of Greece and Rome, at the same time that it suggests habitation of separate countries, also suggests union, the erasure of boundaries(for the myth is about joining as well as separation, and the poem ends with an image that suggests both joinder and separation). After all, look at the merger of the "French sound for apple and/the noise of stone," and the complexity of the treatment of that image, dyadic and divisive in one blow.
All very Nancy Chodorow.

Anonymous said...

to me it suggests roman hegemony, their imperialistic appropriation of greek cultural forms, which is something we take for granted (ceres is the roman demeter, right? or is she?)

of course, that's got less to do with the poem than it does with the fact that this is what my dissertation is about (this myth, a major cult associated with it, roman appropriation of both). obviously, i'm not coming at this from a literary perspective, but from the perspective of a cultural historian.

as literature, I follow what you're both saying. and i do like the poem :)

I may write my own post what about my reaction to this, which I'm finding a little curious.