cover image The Historians

The Historians

Eavan Boland. Norton, $26.95 (80p) ISBN 978-1-324-00687-9

Boland (A Woman Without a Country), who died in April 2020 at the age of 75, showed a lifelong commitment to illustrating the lives of women in poetry and worked to correct historical omissions and readings. It is apt, then, that in this stunning volume, the final poem—a public work commissioned by the UN on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Irish women’s suffrage—engages with this subject directly in what is otherwise a resolutely personal book. Working from a definition of freedom as “a voice braided/ Into the silences of other women/ Who came before,” she writes: “Say the word history: I see/ your mother, mine.” Many of these poems double as ars poeticas—poems about the making of poems—and are among the very best examples of this genre. The opening piece, “The Fire Gilder,” is one, fusing a portrait of the poet’s mother with a meditation on craft, and introducing the motif of light and shadow that saturates this luminous book. “How often I long to lift/ my words high. How/ often nothing is raised/ and nothing brightens,” she writes with characteristic humility. “How will we see inside it,/ our own dusk?” Boland’s final book is both a perfect introduction and retrospective, offering a profound and restorative reading experience. (Oct.)