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This review is taken from PN Review 257, Volume 47 Number 3, January - February 2021.

Cover of The Historians
Kate ArthurThe Historians, Eavan Boland (Carcanet) £10.99
‘My grandmother lived outside history’ wrote Eavan Boland in her canon­breaking essay collection Object Lessons, 1996. ‘And she died there.’ It has been Boland’s life work to draw attention to those silences and the parts they play in Irish history. As she returns to the figure of her grandmother in her final collection The Historians, there is a sense of weighing up the value of uttering the unsaid.

Seen as a whole, it can give the sense that it is a message brought from beyond the grave: not just with the wisdom of a life lived in commitment to the interrogation of poetry and of being a woman, but with the ghostly whisper of a spirit no longer subject to the forces they describe. There is a turn towards the earthly eternal – the rain, the light, the sea, the Wicklow hills and the light on them. There is a pervading sense of comfort from those things existing when we no longer do, or when we no longer utter them. There is a preference for silence, for just letting a day be itself. Indeed it brings silence, in the full range of its power: as omission, as repression, as forgetfulness, as resistance and as response to the ineffable, to the heart of the collection. ‘The Just Use of Figures’ opens with the lines ‘Silence was a story, I thought, / on its own and all to itself.’ Although it is a description of silence as an event, before a storm, this silence is the exemplar of Boland’s poetic subject and mood.

The ...


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