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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 2, Volume 4 Number 2, January - March 1978.

ESCAPED FROM THE MASSACRE Eavan Boland, The War Horse, Gollancz, £2.00.
John Montague, A Slow Dance, Dolmen & Oxford University Press, £1.75.
Seamus Heaney, North, Faber, £1.25.

Panicked into commitment by a decade of violence in Ulster, each of these poets knows the predicament Heaney speaks of in 'Punishment', stumbling from the disinterested pose of 'artful voyeur' into a peatbog of prurient complicity:


I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.


Compromised by such two-way betrayals, the temptation is to rationalize a refractory history into myth: thus Montague tries, unconvincingly, to link the modern violence with that ancient 'Black widow goddess' who wears 'a harvest necklace of skulls'; while Heaney, in 'Bog Queen' and 'Come to the Bower', seems to have disinterred that 'dark-bowered queen', Kathleen ni Houlihan, one assumed to be safe with Romantic Ireland in the grave. Even in the work of Eavan Boland, the most 'literary' of these poets, an anxious 'unformed fear/Of fierce commitment' in the title poem vies with a deeper impulse, of a 'blood . . . stilled/With atavism', and their struggle calls up 'A cause ruined before, a world betrayed'. The self-congratulatory relief that the war-horse has passed them by conceals its own guilty critique: 'No great harm is done./Only a leaf of our laurel hedge is torn/Of distant interest like a maimed limb.' Violence often infiltrates Boland's poems as a Marvellian 'conceit', which 'stamps death/Like a mint on the innocent ...


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