University of Granada, Spain | Published: 15 March, 2009
ISSUE 4 | Pages: 92-99 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2009-2935
2009 by Pilar Villar-Argáiz | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
The following translated poems belong to Eavan Boland’s 2001 collection Code(Carcanet) and they illustrate some of her main aesthetic concerns as well as certain thematic innovations in her mature work. By the time this volume was published, Eavan Boland had already acquired both critical respect and a large readership not only in Ireland but also abroad. In 1990, Mary Robinson quoted Boland’s “The Singers” in her first presidential address. Seven years later, in 1997, her work became part of the Irish Leaving Certificate exam. Because of this, the new generation in Ireland is getting used to the fact that there are Irish women poets as well as Irish male poets.
Boland’s established position within the Irish literary establishment is well-deserved by virtue of both the scope and achievements of her work. She has given a new dimension to poetry itself, by turning women from passive and emblematic objects into creative and active parts of the artistic process. Furthermore, Boland has influenced a whole generation of women writers, through her subversion of inherited literary standards, her revision of nationalist and mythological iconographies, her interest in domesticity and her deconstruction of history as a ‘master’ and ‘masculine’ narrative. One of her main concerns has been to address the importance of women’s ordinary lives and offer a more accurate version of Ireland’s past. This concern is observed in some of the poems from Code selected for translation. “How the Earth and All the Planets Were Created”, “Quarantine” and “Emigrant Letters” focus on those unrecorded stories which need to be brought out of a shadowy past into the pages of her poems: the life of her grandmother, the suffering of the famine victims and the dislocation of exiled Irish men and women. “Quarantine” is particularly moving in its uncovering of love in one of the most tragic events in Irish history.
The most interesting and perhaps defining feature of Code is that Boland is more adamantly concerned with ‘what endures’ after a married life rather than with ‘what is lost’ from an Irish subaltern past. It is her thirty years of married life that the poet pays the most attention to. As Boland expresses in “Against Love Poetry”, one of the key motives of this volume is to subvert the traditional idealisation of love found in conventional poetry. The husband and wife in Boland’s poems are no longer eternal, no longer perfect figures whose love is romanticised. Her main objective in Code is to depict a couple who are united by their very ordinariness, whose love is strengthened by their sharing everyday and apparently ‘insignificant’ events. Boland implies that it is precisely this kind of non-idealised love which is able to survive despite the passing of time. This concern is the one which dominates the poems “Once”, “Embers”, “A Marriage of the Millennium”, and above all, “Lines for a Thirtieth Wedding Anniversary” – one of the most powerful and suggestive poems in this volume.
But Code also shows some other important thematic innovations in Boland’s recent work. One constituent feature of her opus has been her revision and subversion of conventional images of womanhood in Irish poetry (i.e. the mythical, bodiless, and idealised figure of Mother Ireland, for instance). A striking change in this volume is that now Boland, as a more mature writer, seems to come to terms with the Irish literary tradition. “How We Made a New Art on Old Ground” exemplifies this new move in her work. In this poem, the speaker offers a retrospective and reconciliatory view of national cultural conventions, the Irish pastoral genre in particular. She realizes that, by allowing rust to grow on the gates, this literary convention has not intended to arouse national resistance, to record “the action nor