the hard look of stars...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Eavan Boland

A Woman Painted on a Leaf

I found it among curios and silver
in the pureness of wintry light.

A woman painted on a leaf.

Fine lines drawn on a veined surface
in a hand-made frame.

This is not my face. Neither did I draw it.

A leaf falls in the garden.
The moon cools its aftermath of sap.
The pith of summer dries out in starlight.

A woman is inscribed there.

This is not death. It is the terrible
suspension of life.

I want a poem
I can grow old in. I want a poem I can die in.

I want to take
this dried-out face,
as you take a starling from behind iron,
and return it to its elements of air, of ending—

so that Autumn
which was once
the hard look of stars,
the frown on a gardener's face,
a gradual bronzing of the distance,

will be,
from now on,
a crisp tinder underfoot. Cheekbones. Eyes. Will be
a mouth crying out. Let me.

Let me die.


Eavan Boland, a professor of English at Stanford University, is as strong a contemporary presence in poetry as one can read. Her gift of craft is evident in every poem. Why she has yet to be included in David Lehman’s Best of American Poetry series is a crime and reveals a glaring weakness in the selections.

Her use of language is beautiful and startling – and is adept in drawing in the reader. The speaker’s voice in this piece is muscular and convincing in creating a haunting ambiance. “A Woman Painted on a Leaf” is the closing poem in Boland’s brilliant collection, In a Time of Violence (W.W. Norton, 1994), and serves as a perfect glance across the acute observation of the human condition that precedes it. A consideration of a poetry that is a manifesto:

This is not death. It is the terrible
suspension of life.

I want a poem
I can grow old in. I want a poem I can die in.

Boland forces the reader to consider the world and culture – like the “hammered gold and gold enameling” in Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” – that left these fine lines of art among the “curios and silver / in the pureness of wintry light”. The poet’s voice is declaring the “terrible” act of attempts to confine or limit woman to any state short of real.

This is the holy grail of all poetic endeavors – a work that defies time, place, and history. A poetry that lets us live in the grandeur and in the tedium, and – yes – lets us die.


anhaga said...

Excellent choice of poem, and excellent, as usual, commentary. Absolutely on target to connect her with Yeats, a similar sort of soul-building understanding of art. I agree totally about Boland's inexplicable absence from BAP. Her new book, Domestic Violence has some awfully good work and is worth a look.

Amanda Auchter said...

I am right there with you! I love Boland.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Boland is a necessary poet. Thanks for the read James and Amanda - and great works at the latest Pebble Lake Review, Amanda.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me what the poem about?