Against Love Poetry

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A collection of poems about marriage by one of our most celebrated poets.
These powerful poems are written against the perfections and idealizations of traditional love poetry. The man and woman in these poems are husband and wife, custodians of ordinary, aging human love. They are not figures in a love poem. Time is their essential witness, and not their destroyer. A New York Times Notable Book and a Newsday ...

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A collection of poems about marriage by one of our most celebrated poets.
These powerful poems are written against the perfections and idealizations of traditional love poetry. The man and woman in these poems are husband and wife, custodians of ordinary, aging human love. They are not figures in a love poem. Time is their essential witness, and not their destroyer. A New York Times Notable Book and a Newsday Favorite Book of 2001.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393324242
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/19/2003
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 1,175,688
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Eavan Boland is the author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry and nonfiction. A professor and the director of the Creative Writing program at Stanford University, she lives in Stanford, California, and Dublin, Ireland.

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Read an Excerpt

Against Love Poetry

By Eavan Boland

W. W. Norton & Company

Copyright ©2003 Eavan Boland
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0393324249

Chapter One




Hester Bateman made a marriage spoon
And then subjected it to violence.
Chased, beat it. Scarred it and marked it.
All in the spirit of our darkest century.
Far away from grapeshot and tar caps
And the hedge schools and the music of sedition
She is oblivious to she pours out
And lets cool the sweet colonial metal.
Here in miniature a man and woman
Emerge beside each other from the earth,
From the deep mine, from the seams of rock
Which made inevitable her craft of hurt,
They stand side by side on the handle.
She writes their names in the smooth
Mimiery of a lake the ladle is making, in
A flowing script with a moon drowned in it.
Art and marriage: now a made match.
The silver bends and shines and in its own
Mineral curve an age-old tension
Inches towards the light. See how
Past and future and the space between
The semblance of empire, the promise of nation,
Arevanishing in this mediation
Between oppression and love's remembrance
Until resistance is their only element. It is
What they embody, bound now and always.
History frowns on them: yet in its gaze
They join their injured hands and make their vows.


We were married in summer, thirty years ago. I have loved you
deeply from that moment to this. I have loved other things as well.
Among them the idea of women's freedom. Why do I put these
words side by side? Because I am a woman. Because marriage is not
freedom. Therefore, every word here is written against love poetry.
Love poetry can do no justice to this. Here, instead, is a remembered
story from a faraway history: A great king lost a war and was paraded
in chains through the city of his enemy. They taunted him. They
brought his wife and children to him—he showed no emotion. They
brought his former courtiers—he showed no emotion. They brought
his old servant—only then did he break down and weep. I did not
find my womanhood in the servitudes of custom. But I saw my
humanity look back at me there. It is to mark the contradictions of
a daily love that I have written this. Against love poetry.


solar eclipse, August 1999

This is the day
and in preparation
you punch a hole
in a piece of card.
You hold it up against
a sheet of paper—
the simplest form
of a pinhole camera—
and put the sun
on your right shoulder:
A bright disc
appears on your page.
It loses half its diameter.
And more than half
in another minute.
You know
the reason for the red berries
darkening, and the road outside
darkening, but did you know
that the wedding
of light and gravity
is forever?
The sun is in eclipse:
if this were legend
the king of light would turn his face away.
A single shadow
would kill the salmon-rich
rivers and birdlife
and lilac of this island.
But this is real—
how your page records
the alignment of planets:
their governance.
In other words,
the not-to-be-seen-again
mystery of
a mutual influence:
The motorways
are flowing north.
The sycamores are a perfect green.
The wild jasmine
is a speaking white.
The sun is coming back. As
it will. As it must.
You track its progress.
I stand and watch.
For you and I
such science holds no secrets:
We are married thirty years,
woman and man.
Long enough
to know about power and nature.
Long enough
to know which is which.


In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking—they were both walking—north.
She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.
In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.


Excerpted from Against Love Poetry by Eavan Boland Copyright ©2003 by Eavan Boland. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

I. Marriage
I. In Which Hester Bateman, 18th Century English Silversmith, Takes an Irish Commission 3
II. Against Love Poetry 5
III. The Pinhole Camera 6
IV. Quarantine 9
V. Embers 10
VI. Then 11
VII. First Year 12
VIII. Once 14
IX. Thanked Be Fortune 16
X. Lines for a Thirtieth Wedding Anniversary 18
XI. A Marriage for the Millennium 19
II. Code
Making Money 23
Limits 1 26
Code 27
The Rooms of Exile 30
Is It Still the Same 32
Limits 2 33
Hide This Place from Angels 34
How We Were Transfigured 36
The Burdens of a History 37
Called 40
Emigrant Letters 42
A Model Ship Made by Prisoners Long Ago 44
Suburban Woman: Another Detail 46
How We Made a New Art on Old Ground 48
The Old City 50
Irish Poetry 52
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