Eavan Boland: Themes

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Good morning fifth year students. I am here today, as I have been asked to speak to you about the poetry of Eavan Boland. Eavan Boland is one of Irelands most distinguished and highly regarded poets. Born in Dublin, in 1944, she spent several years of her childhood in England where her father was a diplomat She later returned to Dublin where she attended Trinity College and began to write poetry and published her first book of poetry ‘New Territory’ at the age of twenty two. Her life changed however when she married and moved to the suburb of Dundrum to bring up her child. She found herself occupying two very different roles, the role of a mother and wife, and the role as a poet. She turned away from the romantic and traditional poetry she wrote during college and began to explore this ‘ordinary world’. As she continued to write, she won more and more attention establishing Boland as a woman writing about a woman’s experience, something that was extremely rare in Irish poetry. Major themes which dominate many of her poems are history and it’s victims, love and marriage. These themes as well as aspects of her poetry such as symbolism, use of mythology and effective imagery make her poetry unique and enjoyable to read.

A major influence on Boland’s poetry is history, and in several of her poems, this is a major theme. We see her work paying tribute to the history’s victims, to those who have struggled and or lost their lives over the centuries. And very often Bolands sympathy lies in particular with the victims who lie ‘outside history’, whose death and sufferings are forgotten about and unrecorded in history. ‘The Famine Road’ is a prime example of this. This is a poem about the powerlessness and exclusion of the Irish victims who suffered during the great hunger in the 1840’s. She highlights the mistreatment of the Irish during the famine at the hands of their British Rulers. We hear the cruel voices of Trevelyan and Colonel Jones discussing what should be done with the suffering Irish. There is no sympathy shown towards the victims, as the English order to ‘give them no coins at all’. They are described as being ‘idle as trout’ as if they are morally weak and need hard work to develop their characters; ‘their bones need toil, their characters no less’. The victims are put to useless work of building roads, ‘going nowhere of course?’ These men are not wealthy or important but ordinary men, victims of times in history whose suffering goes unremembered. This is a powerful poem, inspired by history and her compassion is expressed as she offers her poem as a memorial to their ordeal, so it will not go unremembered. In ‘Child of our time’, we see Boland’s sympathy towards a child who needlessly died due to a terrorist attack in Dublin. In this poem, Boland effectively focuses on a single casualty of Ireland’s history and asks what sort of reason lies behind these terrible acts. The writing of the poem was prompted ‘from the fact you [the child] cannot listen’ and takes ‘it’s rhythm from the discord of your murder’. Throughout the poem she is constantly reminding the reader that the child’s death was ‘unreasoned’ and that collectively we carry the blame; ‘out times have robbed your cradle’. By writing this poem, not only is she showing compassion towards the victim of the attack but is reminding society that new sets of values and communication must be made, we need to rebuild ‘our broken images’, instead of the ‘idle talk’ of useless politics which has led to the childs death.

Another poem in which history and violence is a big theme is ‘The War Horse’. Boland effectively uses a horse which strays into her housing estate, as an embodiment for the conflict in Northern Ireland. She effectively uses the horse as a symbol of destruction, of the fact that war and violence are an ever present part of the world. The damage that the horse does to her garden represents the horror of Northen Ireland. She likens the...
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