Wise Words

I was lurking around my own bookshelves yesterday (surveying my domain?), visiting some old friends and updating my sometimes-neglected and still far from being complete Goodreads page. It was a peaceful early-morning activity in a week so far short on peace: I sat in front of the fire, sipping tea and waiting for the snow to start falling, while I opened covers that haven’t been cracked in some time.

When I was in college, I was introduced to the work of poet Eavan Boland. This was a time when my own poetry was still all obfuscation–manipulating words to express feelings without identifying their cause. Beautiful, maybe. Therapeutic, perhaps. But juvenile and cowardly nonetheless. Boland’s poetry was a revelation because of its specificity, and its voice resonated for me. It continues to do so, and the reasons have only grown more rich and varied as I’ve grown and begun thinking myself about histories–personal and public–and memory and the way pasts touch the future.

From her collection, In a Time of Violence which leapt off the shelf at me yesterday morning, after a long time sitting there:



–and not simply by the fact that this shading of
forest cannot show the fragrance of balsam,
the gloom of cypresses,
is what I wish to prove.

When you and I were first in love we drove
to the borders of Connacht
and entered a wood there.

Look down you said: this was once a famine road.

I looked down at ivy and the scutch grass
rough-cast stone had
disappeared into as you told me
in the second winter of their ordeal, in

1847, when the crop had failed twice,
Relief Committees gave
the starving Irish such roads to build.

Where they died, there the road ended

and ends still and when I take down
the map of this island, it is never so
I can say here is
the masterful, the apt rendering of

the spherical as flat, nor
an ingenious design which persuades a curve
into a plane,
but to tell myself again that

the line which says woodland and cries hunger
and gives out among sweet pine and cypress,
and finds no horizon

will not be there.


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