Irish poet Eavan Boland died at the end of April at the age of 75 from a stroke. Born in Dublin in 1944, Eavan Boland is one of the foremost female voices in Irish literature. She created a much needed female balance to Irish poetry on the same level as Yeats and Heaney.
She was known for documenting women’s lives, including their domestic lives. Her work covered the role of women in Irish history and culture. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards in 2017 for what was described as her art, her eloquence and her stalwart advocacy for poetry.
Her first collection of poems was published when she was still a student and she went on to have a long career as a poet, editor and teacher. In recent years, she divided her time between Ireland the US. She was Professor of English and director of the creative writing programme at Stanford University.
For more information
I have chosen the following poem because it reflects her love of Dublin and gives her personal thoughts as she drove through wet weather to visit her dying mother. The Liffey is the river that flows through Dublin.
My mother died one summer –
the wettest in the records of the state.
Crops rotted in the west.
Checked tablecloths dissolved in back gardens.
Empty deckchairs collected rain.
As I took my way to her
through traffic, through lilacs dripping blackly
and on curbsides, to pay her
the last tribute of a daughter, I thought of something
I heard once, that the body is, or is
said to be, almost all water and as I turned southward, that ours is a
city of it,
one in which
every single day the elements begin
a journey towards each other that will never,
given our weather,
the ocean visible in the edges cut by it,
cloud colour reaching into air,
the Liffey storing one and summoning the other,
salt greeting the lack of it at the North Wall and,
as if that wasn’t enough, all of it
ending up almost every evening
inside our speech –
coast canal ocean river stream and now
mother and I drove on and although
the mind is unreliable in grief, at
the next cloudburst, it almost seemed
they could be shades of each other,
the way the body is
of every one of them and now
they were on the move again – fog into mist,
mist into sea spray and both into the oily glaze
that lay on the railings of
the house she was dying in
as I went inside.
Eavan Boland (1944 – 2020)
Quite clearly it is a soaking wet city and enforces the Ireland rain connection to the mind. But it does give a shadowy grey dismal emotive background associated with pending death.
It is interesting for it is almost as if she connects the unending rain with her mother as if there is a transference or absorption – ‘it almost seems they could be the shades of each other, / the way the body is’. This reflection is readily accessible by the reader and her thoughts obviously dominated by having to journey through the city in wet weather and it being the wettest summer ever.
The title ‘And Soul’ is thought provoking. My thoughts are that ‘soul’ is always secondary and latent, if you like behind everything and in this case very much behind this personal experience when driving in the rain.
This poem contrasts with my previous Post of Wallace Steven’s poem ‘The Snow Man’ where a different transference is involved and where words need much thought.
RIP – absorbed in Ireland beautiful.