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

‘You are dear and stand beside me’: Sappho’s Blessing and Sappho’s Charge Mark Doty

Night falls twice in ‘The Journey’, a poem close to the heart of Eavan Boland’s work – at once ars poetica and lamentation, an interrogation of history’s limits and a bold act of claiming poetic legacy. The first dark descends as the speaker finds herself at odds – perhaps after an afternoon of reading new books, or some journal where the sort of poems that most rankle her are on display – with the poetic climate around her. Whether this twilight belongs to a Dublin evening or is an outward sign of poetry’s benighted state, she’s ready to launch the kind of rhetorical outburst at which all serious readers arrive now and then; THIS is what a poem must be, we insist to the bookshelves and the dog, THIS is what the art requires. The poem opens

And then the dark fell and ‘there has never’
I said ‘been a poem to an antibiotic: …

After a few lines describing the way poetry often veils the quotidian in elevated speech, the speaker’s aesthetic pronouncement rises to the level of a credo:

Depend on it, somewhere a poet is wasting
his sweet uncluttered meters on the obvious

emblem instead of the real thing.
Instead of sulpha we have hyssop dipped

in the wild blood of the unblemished lamb,
so every day the language gets less

for the task and we are less with the language.

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