Eavan Boland

It’s that time of year again. The PBS stations are full of pledge-driven shows… Absolutely Irish, Historic Pubs of Ireland, Celtic Thunder, The High Kings… to name just a few. Any day now, The Quiet Man… and Darby O’Gill and the Little People… will start infecting televisions all over the country, playing in heavy rotation.

The shamrock and leprechaun decorations abound, and soon people will be drinking green beer, and spelling the day as St. Patty’s Day, which is incorrect. Patty is a girl’s name. It’s St. Paddy’s Day, so let’s spell it correctly for once, everyone, please.

I’m 100% proud to be a second-generation Irish American, but have never felt the need to wear green on the day, or paint shamrocks on my face. Instead, I will celebrate my ancestry with writings that I studied in last semester’s course, “Postmodern Irish Poetry”. Here is a poem by Eavan Boland.


In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking–they were both walking–north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

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:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

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