The Appeal of Eavan Boland’s Poetry

The appeal of Eavan Boland’s poetry is how real she is as her personal experiences are reflected in her poems. Her writing is humble and domestic making it accessible to the reader as she is interested in the voices of the powerless in society such as in ‘The Famine Road’. Being that she is from Dublin her references in her poems make the poems relevant and accessible to readers who are also from Dublin as in ‘The war Horse’. Her appeal to women is obvious as she talks of issues directly relating to mothers as in ‘Child of Our Time’ or ‘This moment’ but also not just mothers as in ‘The Famine Road’.

However, her appeal is not just for women as she has feminist concerns but is not a ‘doctrinaire’ feminist, she does not side with only women as even in ‘The Famine Road’ she speaks of Ireland’s famine of the 1840’s which appeals to both women and men. Firstly, the structure of ‘The famine Road’ is divided into 4 alternating stanzas for each story, each of which plays off the other in an ironic counterpoint with italics used for the doctor and woman’s conversation. This makes the poem accessible as there is a clear divide between the stories yet they are closely related.

Although her use of an irregular rhyming scheme with many half rhymes such as “Relief” and “safe” and her use of enjambment and irregular sentence lengths ranging from one to six lines long reflect the complexity of the poem so it is not to say her accessibility in her poems makes them easy. The short sentences reflect the cold and dismissive tone of the British “Your servant Jones”. The use of many commas and full stops produces a slower pace to the poem as there is no urgency in the casual tone of the British and the doctor, showing their indifference to the Irish and the woman in both stories.

Secondly, the tone of the poem is set within the first sentence with the choice of language. The first three words are directly offensive to Irish people, “Idle as trout”, but also impersonal, not addressing them as people. This shows the British indifference and coldness towards them. “These Irish” is immediately dismissive in tone. The complete detachment is heard again with the transformation of a real woman in front of the doctor, turned into a statistic, ‘one in every ten’ and ‘a case’, mirroring the British detachment mentioned previously.

The offensiveness continues as they are referred to as “wretches”. However when the soldiers address their fellow British they use their proper names “Colonel Jones” “Travelyan’s”, therefore personalising it. This cold tone is continued within the doctor and the woman’s story as the words “women” and “yours” emotionally detach the doctor and distances him from her and her problem. These unsympathetic tones continue throughout with “their bones need toil” and “keep house, goodbye” showing the cruelty and continuing insults from each.

The doctor’s and British feeling of superiority is clearly evident within their speech. “Going nowhere of course” is utterly condescending towards the dying people. The doctors use of the word ‘mysteries’ has held a common belief by critics that it reflects Travelyan’s theory at the time that the famine was God’s mysterious plan to solve overpopulation, the irony being that the problem in this story is infertility. The infertility is in fact in both stories. ‘Barren’ refers to the land during the famine but also the woman is ‘barren’ as she cannot have a child.

Finally, the imagery used in this poem begins immediately at the beginning, ‘Idle as trout’ but the same image is also carried on throughout as it is referred to again with ‘Blood their knuckles on rock’. These paint a picture of the Irish choosing to be idle and do nothing out of laziness when in fact they are starving to death which is proven by the images portrayed by the words ‘bones’ and ‘sick’. ‘They will work tomorrow without him’ shows the fact that they are dying from ‘blood tainted’ the disease of starvation.

The most terrifying image in the poem however is the idea of cannibalism produced, ‘each eyed – as if at the butcher – the other’s buttock’. This shows how desperate these people became and although the tone remains impersonal it touches on the idea of the gradual dehumanisation of a human race to the level of beasts as the poem does refer to the peoples parts of their bodies, ‘buttock’ and ‘knuckles’. In conclusion this poem’s complexity yet accessibility mentioned through the divide of them poem but also the line structure holds a wide appeal to all.

The next poem I will mention is ‘The War Horse’. The War Horse is a memory of Eavan’s of a horse from the tinker camp in Enniskerry that got loose and is on her road and trampled flowers and eats the leaves. Instantly there is an appeal for people familiar with Dublin as they can picture the Enniskerry road. However Eavan takes this memory and symbolises it into war. To begin, the structure of the poem is divided into fifteen stanzas with two lines in each.

There is ‘nothing unusual’ about this divide and is done on purpose to represent how war can come about in perfectly ordinary places but also to show how in some countries, for example African countries, war can be so common that there is nothing unusual about it’s occurrence. The normality of the poem is also shown with the concrete images portrayed in the poem, the speaker herself, the horse destroying gardens, the neighbours peering from behind curtains. With the first two sentences being long and flowing, the third instantly disrupts the flow as it is three words long.

This automatically disrupts the initial flow and creates an unsettling tone yet the words are to reassure us, ‘He is gone’. The sentence length throughout the poem is irregular, keeping the unsettled, uneasy tone. The use of enjambment and half rhymed couplets ‘huge’ ‘subterfuge’ contribute again to this apprehensive tone. Moving on, the language of the poem supports the normality that the structure provides initially, beginning with ‘dry night, nothing unusual’ as it is showing as mentioned before how war can occur anywhere without right or reason.

The alliteration of ‘clip, clop, casual’ at first give us no reason to believe this horse is anything out of the ordinary or that it poses a threat to anyone or anything. This almost lures us into a false sense of security as war can be misleading. Almost immediately after these three words our sense of ease is destroyed as he ‘stamps death’ on ‘innocent coinage’. The leaves are ‘maimed’ along with the flowers, and in this symbolic war they represent the innocent victims of the violence. The ‘stone of our house’ a soldier in war or ‘volunteer’ as it is a ‘line of defence’ against the horse.

This in when the Boland’s reality is shown clearly through the cynical tone of ‘only a crocus’ is killed. Alliteration used again to enforce the brutality by which it was murdered ‘bulbous’ head ‘blown’. The rhetorical question ‘why should we care’ brings back this cynical tone and also the brutal reality of the world’s indifference and sheer ignorance to war, reinforced by ‘neighbours use the subterfuge of curtains’ to hide from the problem. Boland is self critical however when she says ‘thankfully passing us’ admitting to the world’s ignorance to war.

The poem is not only local, as it is easy to identify with if you know the ‘Enniskerry road’ but also national as Boland moves on to refer to the troubles of the IRA ‘recalling days of burned countryside’. The poem however is completely universal as war is a universal theme extending typically as far as the middle eastern countries or Africa. The universal theme is finally injected blatantly in the last three words ‘A world betrayed’. Lastly, the imagery in the poem as mentioned before are solid and concrete making them accessible but also they are symbols which adds to the complexity and enables the reader to relate to the poem.

The poet uses similes to compare the plants and flowers to victims of war, ‘Like corpses’. The mention of the troubles is shown in ‘ribboned across our hedge’ representing blood. Again this is making the poem national. In conclusion Boland’s self-criticism and realness provided by her use of language in this poem is the key to her appeal. The appeal of Child of Our time begins within the structure as firstly the irregular sentence lengths show the irregularity and ‘discord’ at the time of the troubles. It shows lack of reason mirroring the absence of a reason for the bombings and chaos that the troubles brought.

The unpredictability of war is also reflected by the enjambment used in the poem. Not only does irregular line length imply unreasoned war but also how unnatural the death of an innocent child is referring to Boland’s friend’s child suffering a cot death but also universally how unnatural the death of any child is. The unpredictability of the line lengths resembles the length of war, it being unpredictable and can be very lengthy and drawn out as are the first two sentences then come to an almost abrupt ending with the last two line lengths.

The use of punctuation for example the commas as shown in line 12 slow the pace of the poem down allowing us time to reflect on what is being said. Although in war the pace is fast and urgent, the tone of the poem is not as it holds the reflective tone. It also mirrors the slow rhythm of a cradle rocking back and forth being calm and tranquil and in no rush. Secondly the language in this poem is very important as it alters the meanings of the words to convey the different messages in the poem.

This very cleverly is shown in words such as ‘cradle’ as not only does this represent the cot death suffered by her friend’s baby but is also a universal word representing all children. ‘We who should have known’ and ‘must learn from you dead’ are paradoxes referring to the need for adults to learn from children. This is a common trait of Boland’s found here as she uses the word ‘we’ although she didn’t have children at the time she shares the blame between everyone and is intent on society changing represented by ‘a new language’.

Finally the imagery used is very vivid varying from peaceful images of tranquillity in ‘rhymes for your waking, rhythms for your sleep’ painting the picture of parents putting their children to bed. ‘Names for the animals you took to bed’ showing the naivety of children with the little simple tasks they enjoy and how innocent they are compared to The Troubles. These images are strongly contrasted with the ‘broken images’ referring literally to the image that possessed Boland to write this poem but also to the families torn apart from these disasters. The last poem I will mention is Love as it is a typical Boland poem.

It shows her realism and honesty, not being afraid to say how she feels. But also again her sharing the blame as she does not blame the loss of romance in their marriage on her husband but rather on both of them. Boland’s ‘Love’ structure is interesting in the fact that it is divided into 8 stanzas but it is very noticeable that in the first few stanzas when she is speaking of better times when her and her husband were so madly in love they are longer but as the marriage gets tougher, the stanzas get shorter finally ending in one with only two lines.

This represents how Boland longs to go back to those days. Boland’s use of language begins passionately, intimately as she shares the places ‘bridge in the river’ but also mythical as she refers to the underworld ‘the hero crossed on his way to hell’ but to the end becomes almost negative asking ‘will we ever live so intensely again? ’ In conclusion, the poetry of Eavan Boland has great appeal for a number of reasons.

Her ability to take a suburban issue and relate it to a national issue as she does in ‘The War Horse’ is truly epic. Also her ability to write so freely and intimately about personal relationships as she does in ‘love’ is a credit to the ability of the poet herself. Her poetry also makes you appreciate suburban like and gives an invaluable insight into the troubles of Northern Ireland and the tragic period in history, the great famine.