Teaching poetry to eighth grade students has never been the easiest lesson. Just the mere mention of a poem and panic washes over their faces, the assumption that they will never understand a word of what is written.
The Irish feminist poet, Eavan Boland, however, is one of the more accessible modern poets. She crafts her poetry with an accessible diction, and while most certainly not obvious, her themes are often representative of the human condition.
Eavan Boland was born in 1944 in Dublin, Ireland. She was educated in Ireland and the United States, and published her first work in 1980. Having won her most prestigious poetry award in 1994, she currently is a professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Tackling issues of the female body, relationships, aging and survival, Boland’s poetry provides a view of women both modern and historical.
Tackling a current female issue, Boland’s poem “Anorexic” grips the reader with bold language and graphic imagery.
Now the bitch is burning.
I am starved and curveless.
I am skin and bone.
She has learned her lesson.”
The reader is left understanding the personal demon living inside anorexics, and questioning the autobiographical nature of the poem.
In 1847, the Irish famine contributed to a great immigration to the United States. Boland’s poem, “Quarantine”, bluntly depicts the struggle of a couple trying to survive, all hope of a ‘normal’ and loving existence lost to the injustice of famine.
“In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory.”
The imagery of the couple trying to press their bodies together in a last attempt at survival graphically illustrates the tragic level of Irish peasants found themselves in 1847.
Boland writes of the loss of youth and fertility in her poem, “What Language Did”. The imagery of the female constellations as viewed by the subject on a rainy spring night, and by giving words to our thoughts we confront the reality of aging.
“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.”
Who are your favorite Irish poets?