Eavan Boland Essay - Boland, Eavan (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Boland, Eavan (Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Eavan Boland 1944–

(Full name Eavan Aisling Boland) Irish poet and critic.

The following entry presents an overview of Boland's career through 1997. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 40 and 67.

After struggling to find a place in the mainstream Irish literary canon, Boland has become a significant Irish poet. In a country with a strong patriarchal tradition, Boland has risen above classification as a minor "women's writer" to become an internationally studied poet. In her work she retains Irish mythology and lyricism while introducing feminist themes, uncommon in Irish literature.

Biographical Information

Boland was born in Dublin in 1944 to Irish diplomat Frederick H. Boland and painter Frances Kelly. She spent most of her childhood in London and New York while her father served Ireland beginning in 1950 as Irish Ambassador to the Court of St. James and then in 1956 as the President of the United Nations General Assembly. Boland found her time in London especially difficult due to the prevalent prejudice against the Irish. She would later write in both poetry and prose about the feeling of exile she felt during this period. When Boland returned to Dublin as a teenager, she continued to feel alienated from her culture because she did not speak Gaelic and was not raised in her own country. In 1959 Boland attended boarding school at the Holy Child Convent in Killiny, County Dublin. This time was very important to her development as an artist because she reconnected with her country and found the solitude at the school conducive to writing poetry. She published a pamphlet of poems called 23 Poems in 1962 and began studies at Trinity College the same year; she received degrees in English and Latin in 1966. After graduation, she became a lecturer in the English Department at Trinity. Boland quickly became disenchanted with academic life, however, and left the university to pursue a career as a literary journalist and to write poetry. In 1967, she published a collection of poetry entitled New Territory. In 1969, Boland married novelist Kevin Casey and moved to Dundrum, a suburb of Dublin. Much of her subsequent work centers on her life as a wife and mother. Largely ignored but quietly building a reputation, Boland first stirred controversy with In Her Own Image (1980). The work brought Boland into debates over feminism and the role of the woman poet in Ireland. Since then Boland has been an ardent voice for the equity of opportunity for female poets in the male-dominated literary climate of Ireland. More than just a vehicle for a cause, however, Boland's poetry has brought her international recognition as a literary figure.

Major Works

As Boland began writing poetry, she realized that her only models came from the patriarchal male-centered poetry of Irish literary tradition. Women were portrayed as decorative icons of Irish unity. Instead of abandoning national myths, however, Boland attempted to subvert traditional myths in her poetry and present an alternative look at women. Her style and themes developed slowly throughout her career. Her early poems were traditionally lyric and heavily influenced by William Butler Yeats. These early volumes were traditional in their focus and subject matter, but they touched upon issues that would later consume Boland's writing, including her examination of the role of women in Irish literature and society. Boland's style and themes underwent a drastic change with In Her Own Image, which addresses the difficult subjects of child abuse, wife abuse, anorexia, mastectomy, and victimization. The poems analyze female identity and challenge male-centered thinking by centralizing the experiences of the female body in short-lined stanzas which she refers to as "the anti-lyric." In Night Feed (1982), Boland again tackled the issue of female identity by looking at the domestic lives of women often overlooked in poetry and in Ireland's national myths. She used as her models the still-lives and domestic interiors of painters Jean-Baptiste Chardin and Jan Van Eyck. By turning to painting for her inspiration, Boland created a visual feel in the poems of this volume. The poems in The Journey (1983) expand the themes in Night Feed and continue to use the lives of women to redefine what it means to be Irish. The volume contains several poems which subvert the romanticized images of women found in Irish mythology. In this volume Boland also raises questions about the corruption and exclusion of art and the dangers of its use for ornamentation.

Critical Reception

Reviewers considered Boland a straightforward lyric poet with the publication of her first few volumes. Denis Donoghue stated, "When she published her first book of poems, New Territory, in 1967, it was hard to distinguish her voice from the common tone of English poetry at large: worldly, cryptic, Larkinesque." Many pointed out how much Boland's early poetry owed to Yeats, some criticizing Boland for imitation. Although Yeats was a strong influence on her poetry, critics noted her subversion of his themes. Most critics viewed Boland's In Her Own Image as a departure from the style and themes of New Territory and The War Horse (1980). Often reviews of this and subsequent works focused on Boland as a feminist, rather than as a poet. Many reviewers dismissed In Her Own Image as being too focused on feminine issues and some even found the themes offensive. The volume caused a stir and reviewers began characterizing Boland as a "women's writer." With Outside History (1990), Boland received critical acclaim in the United States which eventually brought her mainstream attention and praise in her own country. Critics disagree about whether Boland is more successful in her domestic or more politically oriented work. William Logan stated, "Poems of quiet desperation in the kitchen do not form an original aesthetic…. When Ms. Boland stops being the bard of fabric … she is truest to her own culture and most deeply coiled in its falseness." Other reviewers, however, found Boland's use of domestic scenes and topics a brave move for the poet, and preferred these poems to her more politically charged work. In recent years, reviewers have praised Boland for her unique presentation of women and political issues and her fusing of individual lives to public myths in her work. R. T. Smith asserted, "Reminding us that art is perhaps the most fruitful venue for the collaboration of public and private interests, [Boland] provides us with not only a map, but a compass as well, and perhaps a thirst for the journey."

Principal Works

23 Poems (poetry) 1962
New Territory (poetry) 1967
W. B. Yeats and His World [with Michael MacLiammoir] (nonfiction) 1970
The War Horse (poetry) 1980
In Her Own Image (poetry) 1980
Introducing Eavan Boland (poetry) 1981
Night Feed (poetry) 1982
The Journey (poetry) 1983
A Kind of Scar: The Woman Poet in National Tradition (nonfiction) 1989
Selected Poems (poetry) 1990
Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980–90 (poetry) 1990
In a Time of Violence (poetry) 1994
Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time (nonfiction) 1995
An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems (1967–1987) (poetry) 1996


Jody Allen-Randolph (essay date March 1991)

SOURCE: "Ecriture Feminine and the Authorship of Self in Eavan Boland's In Her Own Image," in Colby Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, March, 1991, pp. 48-59.

[In the following essay, Allen-Randolph discusses the relationship among the poems in Boland's In Her Own Image, the female body, and the representation of women in patriarchal culture.]

Alternately praised by the mainstream Irish literary establishment for her control, technical mastery, classicism, and lyric ear, and as frequently dismissed for her choice of subject matter, Eavan Boland has contributed significantly to the current debates concerning canon reformation and the nature of women's writing....

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Eavan Boland with Nancy Means Wright and Dennis J. Hannan (interview date Spring 1991)

SOURCE: "Q. and A. with Eavan Boland," in Irish Literary Supplement, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 10-11.

[In the following interview, Boland discusses the place of female poets in Irish literature.]

[Means Wright and Hannan:] A first-rate Irish woman poet would appear to receive less recognition in Ireland than even a third-rate male poet. Do you find this to be true?

[Boland:] I was on a panel in Boston recently at a festival of Irish poetry, and exactly that point was with me. In the audience there were a number of male poets, but I knew of five or six wonderful Irish women poets that nobody in that audience would have heard of. And the...

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David Baker (review date Summer 1991)

SOURCE: "Framed in Words," in Kenyon Review, Vol. XIII, No. 3, Summer, 1991, pp. 169-81.

[In the following excerpt, Baker discusses Boland's "double stance" toward traditional Irish poetry.]

Eavan Boland is only five years younger than Seamus Heaney, and she is the author of six previous books of poetry, but Outside History 1980–1990 is her first collection to be widely distributed in this country. Ontario Review Press did publish its Introduction to Eavan Boland in 1981, and Carcanet distributed here, modestly, her 1987 The Journey. Still, while she clearly has not sprung overnight fully formed and brilliant, this collection may suggest so to an...

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Jody Allen-Randolph (review date April 1992)

SOURCE: "A Passion for the Ordinary," in Women's Review of Books, Vol. IX, No. 7, April, 1992, pp. 19-20.

[In the following review, Allen-Randolph calls the author's Outside History "a retrospective of Boland's most mature and best work."]

Poetry in Ireland is still very much dominated by a male bardic tradition. Compared to their male contemporaries, women poets in Ireland get very little recognition and arouse tremendous controversy. Even as I write, the arts pages and opinion columns of Irish newspapers are crackling with a furious exchange of fire over the recently published Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, the most comprehensive reconfiguration...

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Deborah McWilliams Consalvo (essay date Summer 1993)

SOURCE: "In Common Usage: Eavan Boland's Poetic Voice," in Eire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 28, Summer, 1993, pp. 100-15.

[In the following essay, Consalvo argues that "Boland is a literary voice which cannot, and must not, be left to reside in the marginalia of the Irish literary canon."]

Eavan Boland's literary achievement has established her as one of Ireland's foremost poetic voices. Born in 1945, Boland published New Territory, her first collection of poetry, in 1967. Her second collection, The War Horse, appeared in 1975. Since then, she has established herself as one of Ireland's leading literary figures with such works as In Her...

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Ellen M. Mahon (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "Eavan Boland's Journey with the Muse," in Learning the Trade: Essays on W. B. Yeats and Contemporary Poetry, edited by Deborah Fleming, Locust Hill Press, 1993, pp. 179-94.

[In the following essay, Mahon analyzes Boland's The Journey and Other Poems, considering what the volume expresses about the poet's development as an artist.]

A young Yeats in 1889 urged an aspiring poet to use Irish legend because it "helps originality…. Besides one should love best what is nearest and most interwoven with one's life." Yet thirty years later Yeats himself found A Vision necessary to give him "metaphors for poetry." Similarly Eavan Boland, born in Dublin in...

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Denis Donoghue (review date 26 May 1994)

SOURCE: "The Delirium of the Brave," in New York Review of Books, Vol. 41, No. 10, May 26, 1994, pp. 25-7.

[In the following review, Donoghue analyzes several of Boland's poems and asserts, "Eavan Boland's best poems seem to me those in which she writes without apparent fuss or political flourish."]

Like everything else in Ireland, poetry is contentious. There is always an occasion of outrage. Two or three years ago the choice of poems in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing made women poets feel yet again neglected, suppressed. Eavan Boland was their most vigorous speaker. With notable success she made the dispute a public issue and set radio and TV...

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Jan Garden Castro (review date 6 June 1994)

SOURCE: "Mad Ireland Hurts Her Too," in Nation, June 6, 1994, pp. 798-802.

[In the following review, Castro states that "the real beauty of reading the poems [in In a Time of Violence] lies in discovering the difficulty in each and the delicacy with which Boland dismantles icons associated with Irish tradition and culture."]

In a Time of Violence, Eavan Boland's seventh poetry book, held third place on the Irish Times best-seller list in mid-April, in the "non-fiction" paperback category. Although it was replaced a week later by Darina Allen's Simply Delicious: Versatile Vegetables, it is significant that a poetry collection should join...

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Jody Allen-Randolph (essay date September-October 1994)

SOURCE: "Finding a Voice Where She Found a Vision," in P. N. Review, Vol. 21, No. 1, September-October, 1994, pp. 13-17.

[In the following essay, Allen-Randolph traces Boland's career and defends her as a major poet.]

It is hard to think of an Irish poet whose work has, over the last two decades, shown as much growth and courage as Eavan Boland's. Eight years ago the widespread establishment view in Ireland had branded her a technically gifted but minor poet. Today, with the recent publication by Carcanet of her latest volume of poetry In a Time of Violence and a selection of her prose essays on the way from Norton, she is increasingly officialized as the...

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Kerry E. Robertson (essay date December 1994)

SOURCE: "Anxiety, Influence, Tradition and Subversion in the Poetry of Eavan Boland," in Colby Quarterly, Vol. XXX, No. 4, December, 1994, pp. 264-78.

[In the following essay, Robertson analyzes Boland's subversion of the male tradition in her poetry.]

In his Yeats, Harold Bloom suggests that the greatest influence on a poet is his precursors and that the knowledge of this influence intimidates the ephebe, or fledgling, poet: "The ephebe cannot be Adam early in the morning. There have been too many Adams, and they have named everything." Because the precursors "have named everything," the ephebe experiences "a variety of melancholy or an anxiety-principle. It...

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Gardner McFall (review date June-July 1996)

SOURCE: "Sappho's Daughter," in American Book Review, Vol. 17, No. 5, June-July, 1996, p. 14.

[In the following review, McFall discusses what Boland's An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems (1967–1987) reveals about the poet.]

Eavan Boland's work caught my attention almost ten years ago when a friend sent me three pages xeroxed from The Journey and Other Poems, published by Carcanet, a book which established her poetic maturity and stature. I instantly liked the selection: "An Irish Childhood in England: 1951," "I Remember," "Fond Memory," and "Canaletto in the National Gallery of Ireland," because of the truthful voice I heard, ardent and wise,...

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R. T. Smith (review date Summer 1996)

SOURCE: A review of In a Time of Violence, in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 30, No. 3, Summer, 1996, pp. 304-7.

[In the following review, Smith asserts that Boland's In a Time of Violence "counters any notion that poetry has retreated from the public forum or shies away from issues of great pitch and moment."]

As an explorer of the terrible beauties Yeats witnessed and as a creator of language which radiates with both lyrical and intellectual beauty, Eavan Boland may be equal to any poet writing today. That she finds these beauties in the hard work of rescuing her gender and Irish culture from repression, censorship, and self-imposed silence is both...

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John Foy (review date 1997)

SOURCE: "Paroling Sweet Euphony," in Parnassus, Vol. 22, Nos. 1 and 2, 1997, pp. 223-46.

[In the following review, Foy asserts that Boland's poems will stand "not on the politics that burdens and distinguishes them for now but on the hardihood of their afterlife as a lyrical voice."]

Publicly, provocatively, and at length, Eavan Boland has ruminated on the issues that impel her poetry. These range from the Virgilian Latin, classical myths, and English poetry she learned in school to the "ordinary life" she stepped into as mother and wife in her beloved suburban Dublin. The burdens of this heritage come under her elegant scrutiny in the prose memoir Object...

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Brian Henry (essay date Winter 1997)

SOURCE: "The Woman as Icon, the Woman as Poet," in Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, Winter, 1997, pp. 188-202.

[In the following essay, Henry analyzes the connection between Boland's poetry collection, In a Time of Violence, and her collection of essays, An Origin Like Water, and complains that the two works repeat too many themes and are too focused on Boland herself.]

In what appears to be a bid to be considered the woman Irish poet, Eavan Boland has recently published two volumes of poetry—In a Time of Violence and An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967–1987—and Object Lessons, a collection of essays...

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Further Reading


Henigan, Robert. "Contemporary Women Poets in Ireland." Concerning Poetry 18, Nos. 1 and 2 (1985): 103-15.

Discusses the work of Boland and other Irish contemporary women poets and their presentation of the lives of women.

Kerrigan, John. "Belonging." London Review of Books 18, No. 14 (18 July 1996): 26.

Reviews Boland's Object Lessons and Collected Poems.

O'Connell, Patty. "Eavan Boland: An Interview." Poets & Writers Magazine 22, No. 6 (November/December 1994): 36-45.


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