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This article is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

Inside and Outside History Anne Stevenson

As WILL BE evident to anyone who has followed Eavan Boland's purgatorial journey into self-placement, the story of her meeting with the Achill woman occurs at least twice in her published work: once in the verse sequence of Outside History (Carcanet, 1990), and again as a prologue to her essay of the same title (P·N·R 75). Boland, then a student at Trinity College, had borrowed a friend's cottage on Achill Island for a week at Easter, bringing with her, for study, a volume of the Court poets of the Silver Age, 'those 16th century song-writers like Wyatt and Raleigh, whose lines appear so elegant … yet whose poems smell of the gallows'. Since the cottage was without water, an old woman carried it up every evening in a bucket.

I remember the cold rosiness of her hands.
She bent down and blew on them like broth.
And round her waist, on a white background,
in coarse, woven letters, the words 'glass cloth'.
And she was nearly finished for the day.
And I was all talk, raw from college - …


Both poem and essay mark the occasion as an epiphany, an incident that affected the direction of the poet's life and thinking. 'She was the first person to talk to me about the famine. The first person, in fact, to speak to me with any force about the terrible parish of survival and death which the event had ...


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