Abstract. Boland's poetry seeks to reconcile political and personal, the moment and duration, self-knowledge--seen as an exteriorisation of the self--and narration. It is therefore fundamentally concerned with aesthetics, especially in visual art, which however it views as a form of division and hypostatization of the moment, while it also seeks to place the intense moment of vision in the processes of time by recurrent images of transformation, anticipation, memory and loss; it is essentially elegiac, celebrating and lamenting the past and reflecting the constant presence of death within the everyday consciousness; hence the model of Vergil, and especially of the sixth book of the Aeneid, and of Irish song.
Key Words. Eavan Boland, self-knowledge, art, time, elegy, song, Vergil.
Resumen. La poesia de Boland compagina lo politico y lo personal, el momento y lo permanente, el auto-conocimiento--en tanto que exteriorizacion del ser-- y la narracion. Se ocupa pues fundamentalmente de la estetica, en especial en las artes visuales, a las que sin embargo considera una forma de division y reificacion del momento, al tiempo que intenta insertar el momento intenso de la vision dentro de procesos temporales mediante imagenes recurrentes de transformacion, anticipacion, memoria y perdida; es esencialmente elegiaca, en tanto que celebra y lamenta el pasado y refleja la constante presencia de la muerte en la conciencia cotidiana; de ahi el modelo virgiliano, en particular del sexto libro de la Envida, asi como las cancion irlandesa.
Palabras clave. Eavan Boland, auto-conocimiento, arte, tiempo, elegia, Virgilio.
One of Eavan Boland's finest poems is "The Art of Grief" (1995a: 208). It is, precisely, about art and grief, about their similarities and differences, and about their relation to time. "I saw a statue yesterday", the poem opens, firmly setting a tone of precise factuality and a time scale, a scale of recent everyday experience. But the statue is not exactly in time; like the speaker it is a middle-aged woman, the product of aging, but the statue is "set and finished". And yet it is the product of a momentary act, "the same, indivisible act of definition /which had silenced her". Indivisible; as with the concern with the atomic in the early poems, there is here the sense of the point at which process becomes irrelevant because no change is possible within a moment. It makes a change; it creates a division, a definition, a symbolic object. And it is perceived in an instant; if not in an indivisible moment, at least the contemplation of the statue takes place while the observer, 'caught by surprise', is preparing to get into her car, her keys still in her hand. It silences the grief-stricken woman, for the visual is instantaneous but language takes time (poems above all order our experiences in time). But within that instant there comes a recognition of a different time, the time of memory. The speaker recalls her mother's grief, which, unlike that of the statue, is conspicuously temporal, her unrhythmical sobs belying the regular unifying rhythm of verse, her private tears giving way to conversation and leaving her deciding to change the future; even her handkerchief is perceived as "the slow work of the moth". We live in time, but we can compress time into a moment. We create in a moment of division, but that moment is a compression of an age: the speaker longs to know
the moment her sorrow entered marble-- the exact angle of the cut at which the sculptor made the medium remember its own ordeal in the earth, the aeons crushing and instructing it until it wept itself into inches, atoms of change.
The ordeal in the earth is that of Proserpine, no doubt, the experience of death in the underworld, of the pain that comes into new life and becomes a reflection of the poet's own sensibility.
The poem brings together in a dense and lucid pattern some crucial concerns of the author. It seeks to define a moment; it shows the moment to be one of self-knowledge and it conceives of self-knowledge as exteriorization or reflection. It shows that momentary knowledge to be a product of art, of an essentially visual art (and in this respect Boland resembles many poets, not least in Ireland, who have devoted some of their verse to the description of visual art). But it questions that visual art, too. It conceives it as a violent hypostatization of a life which is also process, change in time, memory. Visual art is, in the words of the following poem in the collection (1995a: 210), "the terrible/ suspension of life". Boland is asserting, then, that poetry can also be narrative. And in this dual perspective "The Art of Grief" sums up a constant tension in Boland's work, the tension between the instantaneous visual discovery of the self and the exploration of experience in time. The issue is manifest in Object Lessons (1995b, 234), where she accuses traditional male "erotic" verse of "a concealed boast, a hidden brag about the power of poetry itself: that it could stop time". The female poet, on the contrary, must recognize that she can "age or fail or be simply mortal". The female poem includes time; it is capable of "recording [...] the accurate detail of time passing, which might then become a wider …