Eavan Boland Poetry #2

So yeah, I know we only did a few poems this week. Still, you can say something about them, right?

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Filed under Poetry: Eavan Boland

10 responses to “Eavan Boland Poetry #2

  1. Patricia

    I was scrolling through my old blogs when I came across this question: What was easy to understand and what was difficult in relation to social and cultural context and issues? At first i thought I thought ‘how far can a poet reflect their culture through the poem?’ a short story was not long enough to show a certain perspective, nor culture, let alone a poem. Turns out, I was wrong. ‘My Country in Darkness’ by Eavan Boland was a wonderful poem that involves history and the loss of culture. What was easy to understand from this poem in relation to social and cultural context was that poetry was once a significant part of Irish culture. Back then, there were two groups of poets; bards and filid. Filid was known to be more associated with the church, and works to write/recite poems for religious purposes, they were known to come from higher class compared to. Bards however, works more to entertain their employers, such as kings or chieftains. In the poem the quote ‘only a few remained to continue a dead art in a dying land’ seems to imply the fact that poetry was once a significant part of Irish culture. What I do not understand was why did they went ‘bankrupt’? The third stanza (this is a man..) seems to suggest that the culture was lost due to the war in Flanders and Madrid (a.k.a Spain and Belgium), and ‘his riddles and flatteries will have no reward’ suggests that their business is declining. If bards were truly as it was mentioned to be – highly trained artist, then why didn’t the Irish people use such a significant culture to boost nationalism? To support soldiers in war? To express the suffering and record the glory and honor attained? Another thing that I do not seem to comprehend was what Eavan Boland was trying to imply when she said ‘his riddles and flatteries will have no reward. His patrons sheath their swords in Flanders and Madrid’. What was the author trying to say? Was she blaming the loss of culture on the unemployment of bards, because the rich moved away? If so, then how does ‘after the wolves and before the elms the bardic order ended in Ireland’ help express her opinion?

  2. Sheri

    “Quarantine” by Eavan Boland tells the story of a man and his wife who are running away. The wife is ill from famine fever and is at risk of being sent away to quarantine by the government. Knowing that she will die during their time apart, the man chooses to escape with his wife so that she may spend her last moments together with him. This is a love poem through which Boland shows that love resonates loudest during moments of hardship.

    One of the ways in which she shows this is through the structure of the poem. It opens with the couple setting out from the workhouse. As they walk, the structure of the poem follows their pace, seemingly echoing their footsteps. The first two lines are broken down into balanced segments, showing that their walking is initially regular: “In the worst hour, of the worst season, of the worst year, of a whole people.”

    But as the woman’s body falters, so does the rhythm of the accompanying line: “He was walking — they were both walking — north.” Each line continues to grow longer to create the sense of time passing, showing the reader that the man and his wife have been walking for a very long time. Suddenly, the flow of the poem comes to an abrupt stop as Boland writes, “In the morning they were both found dead.” Through structure, Boland illustrates how the man perseveres for the sake of his wife, down to the final seconds of their lives.

    Her use of language is also effective in bringing out subtle points about the story she is trying to convey. The line “He walked like that west and west and north” struck me in particular, as it shows that the man did not have a clear idea of where he was heading — or at least, he did not have in mind a physical destination. Then, “until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.” The author never mentions precisely where they arrived, but the next line (in which they are found dead) suggests that their destination, or goal, was death. Through these few simple lines, Boland manages to make the story even more powerful. Not only is the man escaping with his wife, but he is also doing so with the knowledge (and perhaps the intent) that he would die, too.

    In the final stanza of her poem, the author writes of “what there is between a man and woman, and in which darkness it can best be proved.” This is a powerful summation of the entire poem: though difficulties may challenge one’s love towards another, effectively it is what will allow those difficulties to be overcome.

  3. Karen

    If the Black Lace Fan was about young summer love, then Quarantine is about an undying, unyielding one. It’s one thing to promise to live together, but a whole other thing to die together as well.

    The husband in Quarantine could have left his fever-ridden wife, and lived. Instead he chose to die with her, expending precious energy to carry his wife on his back, energy that could have tipped the balance between his life and his death, “He lifted her and put her on his back. He walked like that west and north.”

    Yet even in death, he continued to hold her, sharing warmth and bearing suffering. Many love poems do not dare to stray into morbid territory – instead they choose to focus on unrequited love, the passions of the flesh, or the tragedy of star-crossed lovers.

    Quarantine speaks about a moment in time when one woman and one man, bound by love and strengthened by pain, stand together against their cruel fate. The love between them is warm, “The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her”, and acts as a final defiance against the deathly cold.

    Boland ends this poem with the lines, “And what there is between a man and a woman, And in which darkness it can best be proved”. She stresses the point that it is easy to love during times of prosperity, but that it is during times of trails that love is tested. Some loves break, while others – like the love between the husband and wife in Quarantine – do not. Their lives and deaths tell a story, one that is far more poignant than lust or giddy love – one that lives out, “TIll death do us part”.

  4. Hartini

    This week, we continued with our focus on Eavan Boland’s poetry. It was especially interesting to see, once again, the poet actually reading and explaining the poem in person. It’s something very new to me – like nothing I’ve seen before, actually. I think that this in itself presents a few advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, we can gain a clearer understanding of the poem. Actually hearing what it means and what it sounds like (the emphasis, tone, etc.) takes away a lot of the speculation and often arbitrary/forced interpretation that we often resort to when we’re faced with a particularly vague poem. However, this might also cause us to trust the poet’s interpretation too much. What I mean is, perhaps the poet did not even intend to place that meaning behind the poem upon first writing it. Perhaps the poets themselves are unsure of how to explain their poem. This is dangerous, as we the audience tend to trust in whatever these poets reveal as the poems’ true meanings, without first realizing that they might not be as correct as they should be.

    “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” is a poem we focused on this week. In essence, the poem is saying that a map cannot express or reveal the true nature of the horrors that once ravaged an area, as it is just a flat plane decorated with colors and lines. A map is limited in that it is unable to capture feelings, landscapes, atmospheres, or emotions. It is a cold, purely objective representation of peoples and places. Maps don’t reveal the deaths that took place on famine road, no matter how hard you look. In fact, the famine road isn’t even on the map, which once again emphasizes on a map’s limitations.

    It is interesting to note that while Boland is using this poem to criticize cartography as a tool for understanding history, she is offering her descriptions of the past. Her vivid descriptions of the forests, her memories, and the history that she knew of are juxtaposed against the plain, unrevealing nature of a map, which highlights how much a plain map fails to do justice for the significance of a place, in history.

  5. Stacy!

    Quarantine is the ultimate poem of love. It has been a very long time since I have read about such a love that literally saw the vow ’til death do us apart’ come to life. The poem Quarantine tells of the story of two ill-fated lovers, who, despite the myriad of circumstances getting in the way, deliberately choose to love each other until the end. What amazes me the most about this story is the husband’s continual sacrifices to keep the wife with him through his last breaths. It says,
    “She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
    He lifted her and put her on his back.
    He walked like that west and west and north.
    Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.”
    Although the circumstance suggests that he could have given up on her, because she was dying anyways, his love for her gave him hope, and even though he probably had awareness of his ultimate departure, he was not willing to give up on the love they had once built. Quarantine is powerful due to the amazing selection of diction that Boland uses. She mentions words such as, ‘fever, freezing, cold, hunger, heat’, words from opposite extremes that makes readers highly sympathetic towards the enduring couple. The tone of this overall work is obviously very desolate, hopeless, but the idea of the love that kept them ‘warm’, ‘together until the end’ brings warmth to the depths of the readers’ hearts. This poem ultimately shows how true love, despite the trials and the pain, should always remain. It critiques how modern ‘love’ has been degraded so much so that love is always typically correlated to the word lust. True love is scarce in the world we live in, but this poem harbors a reminder that we need to find love in the right places. Love that will last will not come easy, but it will be worth it.

  6. Caroline

    “Quarantine” and “My Country in Darkness” are two Boland poems that are tied to Irish history. “My Country in Darkness” however, is more so than “Quarantine” is.

    I cannot understand “My Country in Darkness” fully because I know very little about Irish history and the little information I was able to glean from Wikipedia offered only little help.

    “My Country in Darkness” laments the waning of the Irish bardic order, whom Boland has cast as the light of Irish civilization as evidenced by the title and final stanza, especially the last line:

    “he shuts his eyes. Darkness fall on it [the Gaelic world]”

    The poem suggests their decline resulted from losing their patrons who had emigrated to continental Europe, leaving the bards with no livelihood:

    “his patrons sheath their swords in Flanders and Madrid”
    “he has no comfort, no food, and no future”

    The poem is replete with Irish images: Youghal, Cahirmoyle, limericks, elms, hawthorns, wild geese, representing the other aspects of Irish culture that might be lost with the extinction of the bards.

    “Quarantine” gives us an exact date: 1847, the time of the Irish potato famine. Though the poem at first glance is about the love between a husband and wife, upon repeated readings the other main theme, that of Irish history is tightly connected to the theme of spousal love.

    The potato famine compelled them to leave their workhouse and go elsewhere (we are not told where). The famine serves as the conflict of the poem:

    “in the worst hour of the worst season, of the worst year of a whole people”
    “in the morning they were both found dead…of the toxins of a whole history”

    The conflict caused by the famine is what enables us to see the deep love that the couple share. The man carries his wife despite being weak himself and keeps her warm during the night. In the face of great adversity the couple remain unselfish and caring — a beautiful, ideal love that Boland contrasts with the usual conception of love described in the fourth stanza.

    Both poems, despite their differing central themes, include Irish history as an important focal point or strengthener of the main theme. The Irish historical background, in my opinion could have been replaced by a similar situation in the history of another country, but because Boland is Irish, she has decided to use her country’s history, one she probably knows best to include in her poems.

  7. Jason

    Upon realizing that I have not done the second blog and I have time to catch up on (better late than never, right?), I decided to go back and blog about Quarantine. I don’t really like this poem because I find that it is a cliché poem. The whole idea tragedy of love seemed so repetitive nowadays as it appealed to the masses and essentially, they all have the same underlying concept and message. Also, unlike her other poems, where I found some parts identifiable to me, the idea of love is not something that I could easily relate to. I am neither a romantic nor will I empathize with the idea of ‘tragic love’, and maybe that’s why I don’t find this poem ‘that’ amusing. No I am not harsh and unsympathetic, I’m just skeptical.

    Despite my loathing towards the theme of love and romanticism, I find that Quarantine had some interesting aspects to it. At first I thought of the Notebook when I read the line, “In the morning they were both found dead”, but I then realized there was a different kind of emotion behind this story. We were introduced to the poem with a tragic introduction – a sick wife with a husband that is trying to carry her in order to prevent their separation through quarantine – it was after all, “the worst hours of the worst season”. Again these atmosphere and depiction set the tone of the poem that are supposed to make the readers empathized with the couple – sadly, I am not buying it. Of course, as we discussed in class, Boland was pointing out that their hardship was due to the Irish Potato Famine. Now that there is a ‘real world context’ to it I can begin to understand the tragedy, since it has become non-fictional. I like how Boland further emphasized the hardships through the use of dictions like “freezing stars” to depict the cold air around this couple and their isolation.

    Their death was characterized by a variety of short syntactic structure, which showed their fatigue after going through all these hardships. The way she contrasted these images with this description: “But her feet were held against his breastbone.” Seemed to portray that although they were undergoing these hardships, they never lost their love for each other – the oh-so stereotypical message of tragic love just like Romeo and Juliet or Their Eyes Were Watching God (all of which are fictional and unrealistic). If not enough, Boland emphasized her message at the last stanza of what she was trying to achieve through her poem. Although she said, “let no love poem ever come to this threshold”, I still believe that this poem is like any other tragic love poem or story with characters dying at the end. But, I guess this poem is what many teenage girls would find ‘enriching’ and ‘emotionally provoking’, as a result from the raw emotion of love, which is perhaps why this poem was one of Boland’s more famous ones.

    • Michael S

      The opening stanza of the poem Quarantine start with the repetition of the word worst. This is to signify the heavy tone of the poem right of the bat. It is the worst moment of the time of the year, however, the man and women set off from their homes to walk north.

      There is no indications why that they are leaving their homes, which adds to the mystery of the setting to the poem. However, it is apparent that something desperate is occurring, and that the move is required.

      In the second stanza, it shows the man’s dedication to his sick wife by carrying her. However, it seems futile since the man himself does not know where to go, citing that he moves west and west then north. They soon settle down and see the freezing stars arrive, which signify the change in weather, and also in their decaying hope for survival.

      The third stanza goes on to display the tragedy of their death, that they died of hunger and of cold. However, it displays the man’s sacrifice towards his wife during their final hours, citing that he shared his last heat from his flesh to her, and that he was holding her feet to his breastbone.

      The last stanza mentions that the love between a man and a woman can best be proved under the situation of a dire life or death circumstance.

  8. tiffany

    Though the poem ‘Quarantine’ by Boland was actually not a very pretty poem to picture, it does in the end eventually depict a very touching “’till death do us part” kind of love, which to me is the most beautiful kind of love. In the beginning Boland makes the reader see the horrible Potato Famine that raged within Ireland by emphasizing the tragic, terrifying situation a husband and wife are in: the wife is very sick and the husband is trying to run away with her in order to prevent their separation through government quarantine. The author describes it as the “worst hour of the worst season/of the worst year of a whole people”. The repetition of the word worst through these lines effectively portrays that the situation cannot become any worse than this; her use of the word was very creative. The imagery of the “freezing stars” further underscores the hardships by depicting the cold air around them and their isolation.but in the end, Boland essentially states the message for us. She describes, “And what there is between a man and a woman And in which darkness it can best be proven”, which states that how two lovers react to hardship or tragedy can show whether they truly love each other or not. Through this message, she attempts to distinguish this poem from other love poems. She even acknowledges, “Let no love poem ever come to this threshold”to show that this poem is not above the sensuality associated with love typically found in other love poems.

  9. Jack

    When we First read Quarantine in class, i thought it was eerie and sad but i didnt really understand, the whole back story and the reason for the name of the poem. However after looking it up i realized that the reason for the man and wife leaving and contiguously walking was so that they could spend her last hours together, For them being near each other even if it meant both their deaths was worth it. This type of a love story does speak of a love far deeper than some romance. And i respect Bolen even more now for making this story because, unlike many love stories she managed to make a realistic love story, that did not end happy, and touched on deeper emotions than just romance. Thank you Bolen.

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