What Language Did
The evening was the same as any other.
I came out and stood on the step.
The suburb was closed in the weather
of an early spring and the shallow tip
of washed-out yellows of narcissi
resisted dusk. And crocuses and snowdrops.
I stood there and felt the melancholy
of growing older in such a season,
when all I could be certain of was simply
in this time of fragrance and refrain,
whatever else might flower before the fruit,
and be renewed, I would not. Not again.
A car splashed by in the twilight.
Peat smoke stayed in the windless
air overhead and I might have missed:
a presence. Suddenly. In the very place
where I would stand in other dusks, and look
to pick out my child from the distance,
was a shepherdess, her smile cracked,
her arm injured from the mantelpieces
and pastorals where she posed with her crook.
Then I turned and saw in the spaces
of the night sky constellations appear,
one by one, over roof-tops and houses,
and Cassiopeia trapped: stabbed where
her thigh met her groin and her hand
her glittering wrist, with the pin-point of a star.
And by the road where rain made standing
pools of water underneath cherry trees,
and blossoms swam on their images,
was a mermaid with invented tresses,
her breasts printed with the salt of it and all
the desolation of the North Sea in her face.
I went nearer. They were disappearing.
Dusk had turned to night but in the air—
did I imagine it?—a voice was saying:
This is what language did to us. Here
is the wound, the silence, the wretchedness
of tides and hillsides and stars where
we languish in a grammar of sighs,
in the high-minded search for euphony,
in the midnight rhetoric of poesie.
We cannot sweat here. Our skin is icy.
We cannot breed here. Our wombs are empty.
Help us to escape youth and beauty.
Write us out of the poem. Make us human
in cadences of change and mortal pain
and words we can grow old and die in.
[from In a Time of Violence]
From the Poetry Foundation Web site:
Boland’s poetry is known for subverting traditional constructions of womanhood, as well as offering fresh perspectives on Irish history and mythology. Her fifth book, In Her Own Image (1980), brought Boland international recognition and acclaim. Exploring topics such as domestic violence, anorexia, infanticide and cancer, the book also announced Boland’s on-going concern with inaccurate and muffled portrayals of women in Irish literature and society. Her next books, including Night Feed (1982) and her first volume of selected poems Outside History (1990), continue to explore questions of female identity. Though Boland has been described as a feminist, her approach is not an overtly political one. Perhaps this is because she is not content, as a poet, to uphold one view of things to the exclusion of all others: hers is a voice, in the words of Melanie Rehak in the New York Times Book Review, “that is by now famous for its unwavering feminism as well as its devotion to both the joys of domesticity and her native Ireland.” In a Time of Violence (1994), winner of a Lannan award and shortlisted for the prestigious T.S. Eliot prize, contains poems that gesture towards private and political realities at once. In poems such as “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” and “Anna Liffey,” Boland constructs a world that is influenced by history, the present-day and mythology and yet remains intensely personal. It is a recipe that Boland has perfected in her work since.