Winner of the 2020 Costa Poetry Award
A forceful and moving final volume from one of the most masterful poets of the twentieth century.
Throughout her nearly sixty-year career, acclaimed poet Eavan Boland came to be known for her exquisite ability to weave myth, history, and the life of an ordinary woman into mesmerizing poetry. She was an essential voice in both feminist and Irish literature, praised for her "edgy precision, an uncanny sympathy and warmth, an unsettling sense of history" (J. D. McClatchy). Her final volume, The Historians, is the culmination of her signature themes, exploring the ways in which the hidden, sometimes all-but-erased stories of women’s lives can powerfully revise our sense of the past.
Two women burning letters in a back garden. A poet who died too young. A mother’s parable to her daughter. Boland listens to women who have long had no agency in the way their stories were told; in the title poem, she writes: "Say the word history: I see / your mother, mine. / … / Their hands are full of words." Addressing Irish suffragettes in the final poem, Boland promises: "We will not leave you behind," a promise that animates each poem in this radiant collection. These extraordinary, intimate narratives cling to the future through memory, anger, and love in ways that rebuke the official record we call history.
Boland (A Woman Without a Country), who died in April 2020 at the age of 75, showed a lifelong commitment to illustrating the lives of women in poetry and worked to correct historical omissions and readings. It is apt, then, that in this stunning volume, the final poem a public work commissioned by the UN on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Irish women's suffrage engages with this subject directly in what is otherwise a resolutely personal book. Working from a definition of freedom as "a voice braided/ Into the silences of other women/ Who came before," she writes: "Say the word history: I see/ your mother, mine." Many of these poems double as ars poeticas poems about the making of poems and are among the very best examples of this genre. The opening piece, "The Fire Gilder," is one, fusing a portrait of the poet's mother with a meditation on craft, and introducing the motif of light and shadow that saturates this luminous book. "How often I long to lift/ my words high. How/ often nothing is raised/ and nothing brightens," she writes with characteristic humility. "How will we see inside it,/ our own dusk?" Boland's final book is both a perfect introduction and retrospective, offering a profound and restorative reading experience.