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This poem is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

Re-Reading Oliver Goldsmith's 'Deserted Village'
in a Changed Ireland
Eavan Boland

Well not for years - at least not then or then.
I never looked at it. Never took it down.
The place was changing. That much was plain:
Land was sold. The little river was paved over with stone.
Lilac ran wild.
Our neighbours opposite put out the For Sale sign.


All the while, I let Goldsmith's old lament remain
Where it was: high on my shelves, stacked there at the back -
Dust collecting on its out-of-date, other-century, superannuated pain.


I come from an old country.
Someone said it was past its best. It had missed its time.
But it was beautiful. Blue suggested it, and green defined it.
Everywhere I looked it provided mirrors, mirror flashes, sounds.
Its name was not Ireland. It was Rhyme.


I return there for a moment as the days
Wind back, staying long enough to hear vowels rise
Around the name of a place.
Goldsmith's origin but not his source.
Lissoy.Signal and sibilance of a river-hamlet with trees.


And stay another moment to summon his face,
To see his pen work the surface,
To watch lampblack inks laying phrase after phrase
On the island, the village he is taking so much care to erase.


And then I leave.


Here in our village of Dundrum
The Manor Laundry was once the Corn Mill.
The laundry was shut and became a bowling alley.
The main street held the Petty Sessions and Dispensary.


A spring morning.
A first gleam of sunshine in Mulvey's builder's yard.
The husbands and wives in the walled graveyard
Who brought peace to one another's bodies are not separated.
But wait. Mulvey's hardware closed down years ago.
The cemetery can't be seen from the road.


Now visitors come from the new Town Centre,
Built on the site of an old mill,
Their arms weighed down with brand names, bags.


Hard to know which variant
Of our country this is. Hard to say
Which variant of sound to use at the end of this line.


We were strangers here once. Now
Someone else
Is living out their first springtime under these hills.
Someone else
Feels the sudden ease that comes when the wind veers
South and warms rain.
Would any of it come back to us if we gave it another name?
(Sweet Auburn loveliest village of the Plain.)


In a spring dusk I walk to the Town Centre,
I stand listening to a small river,
Closed in and weeping.
Everyone leaving in the dusk with a single bag,
The way souls are said to enter the underworld
With one belonging.
And no one remembering.


A subject people knows this.
The first loss is through history.
The final one is through language.


It is time to go back to where I came from.


I take down the book. Centuries and years
Fall softly from the page. Sycamores, monasteries, a schoolhouse
And river-loving trees, their leaves casting iron-coloured shadows,
Are falling and falling
As the small town of Lissoy
Sinks deeper into sweet Augustan double talk and disappears.

This poem is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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