Eavan Boland on The Loss of Things

Recently, I was cleaning out my garage, and went into boxes I had not gone into for years, and found all sorts of things: my son’s broken soccer trophy from when he was eight (he’s 22 now), unused bolts and washers to a toilet kit I bought (maybe ten years ago), a basketball net that was never hung (eight years old), directions to a lawnmower I no longer have, and on and on.  Finding these things that once had meaning hung me up a little.  They were just another sign of passing time, and I thought there’s a poem in this.  I haven’t written my poem, but I remembered a poem of Eavan Boland that echoes a similar idea beautifully.

An Elegy for My Mother in Which She Scarcely Appears

By Eavan Boland

I knew we had to grieve for the animals
a long time ago: weep for them, pity them.
I knew it was our strange human duty
to write their elegies after we arranged their demise.
I was young then and able for the paradox.
I am older now and ready with the question:
What happened to them all? I mean to those
old dumb implements which have
no eyes to plead with us like theirs,
no claim to make on us like theirs? I mean –

there was a singing kettle. I want to know
why no one tagged its neck or ringed the tin
base of its extinct design or crouched to hear
its rising shriek in winter or wrote it down with
the birds in their blue sleeves of air
torn away with the trees that sheltered them.

And there were brass fire dogs which lay out
all evening on the grate and in the heat
thrown at them by the last of the peat fire
but no one noted down their history or put them
in the old packs under slate-blue moonlight.
There was a wooden clothes horse, absolutely steady
without sinews, with no mane and no meadows
to canter in; carrying, instead of
landlords or Irish monks, rinsed tea cloths
but still, I would have thought, worth adding to
the catalogue of what we need, what we always need

as is my mother, on this Dublin evening of
fog crystals and frost as she reaches out to test
one corner of a cloth for dryness as the prewar
Irish twilight closes in and down on the room
and the curtains are drawn and here am I,
not even born and already a conservationist,
with nothing to assist me but the last
and most fabulous of beasts – language, language –
which knows, as I do, that it’s too late
to record the loss of these things but does so anyway,
and anxiously, in case it shares their fate.


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