Categories
Literature Poetry

“In Exile” and “Quarantine” – two poems by Eavan Boland

This poem may be found in Eavan Boland’s book of collected poems on page 157 and it is from her sequence outside history. It starts thus:-

The German girls that came to us that winter and

the winter after and who helped my mother fuel

the iron stove and arranged our clothes in wet

thicknesses on the wooden rail after tea was over,

 

spoke no English, understood no French.

We are in Boland’s childhood in Ireland and the political situation in Europe has isolated these girls and put them into linguistic isolation, perhaps similar to that experienced in childhood. This long starting sentence sets the lamenting pace with which this poem is infused. She continues to say that they spoke rapidly; “syllables in which pain was radical, integral; and with what sense of injury the language angled for an unhurt kingdom….I never knew

Renowned poet Professor Eavan Boland dies at 75 | Stanford News

 

The memory of these exile voices reminds Boland of her own exile from the darkness of Ireland and “the drizzle in the lilac, the dusk at the back door” but also of “the tinkers I was threatened with” She is imagining the guttural voices some forty years on and the sadness and pain mixed with these sounds as she reexperiences her loss of her homeland, now teaching in America.

These searing memories she recalls in a very different place-

Among these salt boxes, marshes and the glove-tanned colours of the sugar maples, in this New England town at the start of winter. ” She appears to miss the past and its pains and ends by saying memorably that; “Here in this scalding air my speech will not heal.I do not want it to heal”

This poem I find appealing to the sense we presently have of dislocation due to the Covid crisis. Trying to retrieve some sense of the normal everyday and usual social interaction. In a sense we have all become exiles and I hear Leonard Cohen’s “and all men shall be sailors then until the sea shall free them” There are reminders for me in this poem of the sense of loss of control which so many feel with Brexit and the separation from the cultural and political values which Europe aspires.

 

Categories
Literature Poetry

Eavan Boland -Woman in Kitchen

Breakfast over, islanded by noise,

she watches the machines go fast and slow.

She stands among them as they shake the house.

They move. Their destination is specific.

She has nowhere definite to go:

she might be a pedestrian in traffic.

 

White surfaces retract. White

sideboards light the white of walls.

Cups wink white in their saucers.

The light of day bleaches as it falls

on cups and sideboards. She could use the room

to tap with if she lost her sight.

 

Machines jigsaw everything she knows.

And she is everywhere among their furor:

the tropic of the dryer tumbling clothes.

The round lunar window of the washer.

The kettle in the toaster is a kingfisher

swooping for trout above the river’s mirror.

 

The wash done, the kettle boiled, the sheets

spun and clean, the dryer stops dead.

The silence is a death. It starts to bury

the room in white spaces. She turns to spread

a cloth on the board and irons sheets

in a room white and quiet as a mortuary.

When I started looking at this poem today I soon discovered that the poet sadly passed away just last month and there is an obituary which may be found at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/books/eavan-boland-dead.html

This seems to me to be a poem which expresses considerable ambivalence to what at first seem comfortable domestic surroundings. In current circumstances it might seem to have some special appeal. The poet feels herself to be marooned and isolated with domestic noises in the background from perhaps a washing machine or spin-drier. Unlike these machines which may perhaps be seen as having some resemblances to male characteristics she lacks a sense of direction. The element of threat appears in the second verse where the interesting verb “tap” introduces the suggestion of blindness. ‘Tapping’ might be seen as a very quiet noise in contrast with the loud machinery. It carries the possibility of tap dancing too. It also carries meanings of connection.

The tranquil security of something like a Dutch interior becomes still more alien in the third stanza. The jigsaw might well imply cutting up or puzzlement. Although the images of a lunar moonlander and the reflection of a swooping kingfisher are at the same time threatening, bizarre but also carry a strange delight. They seem to suggest the distracted nature of the woman and her longing.

In the final lines a sudden stillness suddenly reigns. All is clean and silent but also overcoming. She at last starts to move but the sheet she irons might almost be a shroud. There seem to be elements of boredom and domestic imprisonment but all recorded with a deceptively light touch. This poem comes from a collection called Night Feed  1982. An Irishwoman and feminist her collection is published by Carcanet Press and very well worth attention.