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

A Woman Without a Country: A Detail Eavan Boland


It was winter. I was a student in the National Library, waiting for my call number. The library was a Dublin institution, managing its circular lending room with Victorian grace and delay. You found your book by searching through heavy catalogues. You scribbled its number in pencil on lined paper and handed it in. And waited.

I was starting out as a poet. I was beginning to publish poems here and there. Almost all my reading had been in the poetry of the Irish Revival. Especially Yeats. Sometimes only Yeats. Now I was beginning to see the gaps in my knowledge, especially of contemporary poetry.

My catalogue searches were not yet targeted to individual poets. The books whose numbers I pencilled in were chosen for survey rather than specificity. Most likely the poem I stumbled on was in an anthology and not a single volume. It was called ‘Pike’ by the British poet, Ted Hughes.

It wasn’t long. Eleven stanzas of four lines. In the first four, the pike – a fish I’d never seen – was described: its eerie grin, its gold-green stripes, its killer jaws. Later I would find it was a fish that could be found in Irish rivers, the Lee, the Barrow, the Erne. For now it only existed on the page.

In the second stanza the pike changes again. It becomes a creature of ‘submarine delicacy and horror’. In the third it holds quite still, ‘hung in an amber cavern of weeds’. In the fourth stanza ...

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