The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Mother Ireland” is a short poem in free verse in which the speaker is Mother Ireland. The poem repeatedly reminds the reader of the speaker’s presence: every sixth word, on average, is a first-person pronoun (“I,” “me,” “my”). The poem is difficult to classify. It has some qualities of the lyric, with the author speaking through a persona. It sketches the outlines of a story (hence is a narrative), and the story’s scale has epic proportions, though the poem (at only thirty-six lines, 142 words) is obviously not an epic. It might be considered a parable, but that term identifies a type of story, not a type of poem.

Mother Ireland tells her story: Once passive, unself-conscious, blind, and voiceless, she became active, self-conscious, sighted, and articulate. At first, she says, she was the land [of Ireland] itself, unable to see, only seen by others. The season early in the poem is winter: “I was a hill/ under freezing stars.”

The transformation began because “words fell on me” continually, she says. They were others’ words (she calls them by different names: “Seeds. Raindrops./ Chips of frost.”), and she was but their passive recipient. From one of these words, in the poem’s pivotal lines, she says,

I learned my name. I rose up. I remembered it.Now I could tell my...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Mother Ireland” is not divided into stanzas, as most of Boland’s poems are; it is, however, broken up on the page, its lines indented irregularly. The lines of no other Boland poem are so scattered across the page, and their scattered appearance reinforces a reader’s sense of the disruption caused by Mother Ireland’s separation from the land.

The poem has no regular rhyme scheme, yet patterns of consonant and vowel sounds resonate in it. The last syllable in three-fourths of the lines, for example, contains at least one (and often more than one) of the following sounds: d, r, s, and t. Lines vary in length, unpredictably, between two and nine syllables; meter is irregular, but 80 percent of the poem’s metrical feet are anapests or (more often) iambs. If free verse, as Robert Frost said, is like playing tennis with the net down, this is carefully controlled free verse: The ball is as precisely stroked, so to speak, as if the net were still there.

Beginning with inarticulateness and ending with Mother Ireland’s first whispered words, the poem also progresses from simple to more complex, verbally and syntactically. The first six lines contain only words of one syllable, twenty-four of them in a row, and almost all words of more than one syllable come after Mother Ireland has learned her name and arisen. Similarly, sentences in the first half of the poem are much shorter, on average, than those in...

(The entire section is 538 words.)