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This article is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

Language as Truth Serum in Eavan Boland’s ‘The Oral Tradition’ Yusef Komunyakaa
Mother earth. Mother tongue. Mother wit. The artist, especially the poet, must acknowledge or give credence to what one comes out of – in relation to time and human existence. As evidence, one can consider the creation myths. Eavan Boland, in her poem ‘The Oral Tradition’, renders a contemporary creation myth by which the rural world – ‘across the fields at evening / and no one there’, ‘in an open meadow’, with ‘the bruised summer light’ and ‘mauve eaves on lilac’ – and the ordinary people who inhabit that world invoke the primal as an act of becoming. But it is through the poet’s rendering of this ‘overheard’ world which roots in the psyche of the speaker, and thus in the psyche of the reader, that language creates an almost biblical garden as folklore – perhaps an echo of the word made flesh.

The poem begins with perfect casualness – ‘I was standing there / at the end of a reading / or a workshop or whatever’ – a seductive tactic that forges an intimacy with the reader. Boland situates the reader in the contemporary context of the poetry workshop. She continues: the others in the room walk ‘out into the weather’, and the speaker is left there ‘only half-wondering / what becomes of words, / the brisk herbs of language’. Already the poet is approaching the heart-mechanism of poetry and discerning the psychology of everyday language contrasted by the exactness within pastoral imagery. As the poem later teaches us, Boland believes that the expected scents and hues ...


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