In her 1994 collection of poems, In a Time of Violence, Eavan Boland presents her readers with a very focused set of controlling ideas. These ideas, centered around the concepts of family, history, legends, and storytelling, fluidly intermingle and build upon one another as the work progresses until one notion, above all others, is clear: that the telling and retelling of stories and legends is not only a great power, but a great responsibility. In this collection of poems, the poet consciously accepts this responsibility as a reteller of stories, thereby appropriating to herself the power to strengthen familial bonds, question conventional histories, and create new legends for women of the future.
The single poem that best represents the controlling ideas of In a Time of Violence is a short poem entitled Legends. This poem is concerned primarily with the relationship of stories and legends to familial bonds among women; in this case, the bond between a mother and her child. The poem begins by, in effect, telling the story of storytelling: “…they [storytellers] begin the world again, / making the mountain ridges blue / and the rivers clear and the hero fearless…” (Boland, 50). It is clear that Boland is assigning large amounts of power to storytellers within the context of the speaker-listener relationship; in the eyes of the listener, they have the God-like power to “begin the world again”, and to remake and purify elements of the storyworld as they see fit.
The third stanza of the poem both examines this power further and creates a common link between all tellers of stories—“and the outcome always undecided / so the next teller can say begin an...
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...continue, no matter how difficult. At the heart of In a Time of Violence is the need and responsibility to re-imagine and retell old stories that no longer work; to bring women closer together by doing away with the repressive female images—the beautiful heroine, the unseen seamstress— that saturate the current and past stories of our culture. By creating and retelling these stories, Boland explores what she has termed “the meeting place between womanhood and history”, and creates a communal discourse between all women who care to listen to her.
Works Cited and Consulted
Boland, Eavan. In a Time of Violence. New York: Norton, 1994.
Weekes, Ann Owens. "'An Origin like Water': The Poetry of Eavan Boland and Modernist Critiques of Irish Literature," Irishness and (Post)Modernism, ed. John S. Rickard. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1994.
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