The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A compact lyric in free verse, “Lace” consists of thirty-five lines irregularly divided into eight sections or verse paragraphs. The title evokes a strong visual image, the significance of which becomes clear only as the poem progresses; the tatted filaments of a piece of lace represent, for Eavan Boland, the interlacings of language, sound, and sense as she labors in her notebook to compose an ideal poem. “Lace,” then, is a specialized kind of lyric, because it presents the reader with a version of the writer’s poetics; it is a poem about how, in Boland’s view, poems can be written.

The poem begins with a sentence fragment: “Bent over/ the open notebook—.” Boland’s first statement, lacking both a definite subject and verb, is elliptical and oblique. She tells the reader neither who is speaking nor whom the poem is describing, information that conventionally one might expect at the beginning of a piece of writing. Readers may feel dislocated by this immediate lack of grammatical sense and empathize with the poet’s apparently halting efforts to express herself in words. Readers may also find themselves implicated in that same creative process; readers too, after all, are bent over the pages of an open book, like Boland’s missing subject, trying to decipher her poem. The lack of a definite “I” or “she” permits poet and reader to be drawn more closely, though tenuously, together.

The second section of the poem offers a setting, both time and place. At dusk, light is fading and clear vision becomes more difficult. The poem is located, Boland says, “in my room” at the back of the...

(The entire section is 670 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Boland employs two types of language in “Lace.” The poem begins and ends with a barren, simple form of speech. There are no elaborate metaphors here; the descriptions are direct and unadorned, and the vocabulary is limited and unpretentious, consisting mostly of blunt monosyllables.

This type of language stands in sharp contrast to the poetically complex, elaborate diction at the poem’s center, in the fifth and sixth sections that follow the introduction of the image of lace. Boland here employs abstract polysyllables such as “baroque obligation” and poeticizes her vocabulary with highly charged metaphors, as in “the crystal rhetoric/ of bobbined knots/ and bosses.” In this part of the poem, she twists words together like a complicated pattern of old-style lace. Her readers can hear in the poem’s diction the difference between her presently uninspired state and the baroque cleverness for which she longs.

Boland employs a clipped line of no more than eight syllables, and includes only a few words per verse. The breaks between successive lines are not necessarily determined by grammar, punctuation, or meter, or even by the poet’s sense of breath. Instead, the poetry seems broken, chopped, halting, as the poet feels her way precariously into words, pausing irregularly to search for a needed expression or image. The reader follows Boland’s mind in motion as she scrutinizes her own creative processes and takes notes on the apparent breakdown of smooth, effortless form—what she calls “a vagrant drift of emphasis”—and the loss of poetic self-confidence.

In contrast to her fragmented lines, however, Boland exploits interlaced patterns of sound that draw the poem together, giving the reader a sense of wholeness. While there is no formal end rhyme in the poem, many words echo one another, giving the poem musical coherence. Series of words, such as “book back dark dusk look shakes” or “ wrist thriftless crystal drift kisses,” contain assonances, alliterations, and half-rhymes—repetitions of vowel sounds, consonants, and whole syllables—which create threads of euphony that weave through the poem.

Boland presents her readers with two sides of the creative process. On the one hand, traditional forms seem to collapse and prove insufficient; the poet expresses frustration and anxiety about her inability to create. On the other hand, she succeeds in rebuilding the “interlaced” language she wants, by means of patterns of poetic music.