A Favourite Poem: Exploring Eavan Boland’s ‘Inheritance’

By Aoifke

I began to write this article before hearing of the passing of Eavan Boland on the 27th of April, 2020. Boland was one of the foremost writers of Irish literature, her poetry documenting the often unheard and undiscussed history of Irish women throughout the political turmoil that the country has experienced.

Inheritance by Eavan Boland is a poem that I often find myself coming back to, a piece that repeats itself in my head. Boland writes beautifully about political turmoil in Ireland, and her focus on the position of women in Ireland is stunning. History books often focus on the battles and bartering of the land in Ireland, so Boland’s focus on women and the grief they experienced throughout this time feels monumental in its description and its importance in depicting these feelings and lives. 

Boland’s piece shows that women have been significant bearers of the Anglo-Irish conflict. This is a country where land has been split and divided by different owners throughout history, ‘the ground I stood on was never really mine. It might not ever be theirs.’ Ireland has been a country of want and struggles, where mothers ‘have nothing to pass on to their daughters’, no education, no crafts. Their culture and land has been ripped away from them and they have been colonised completely.

The imagery in the poem is so poignantly written, it is a reminder of the oppression that women once faced in this society and the work it has taken in order to be able to call something their own

Yet, the maternal power of these Irish women is still strong; perhaps that is why Boland called another one of her poems ‘Mother Ireland.’ The links to folklore in the poem are beautiful, through the maternal descriptions such as the speaker describing healing her child as if she ‘knew the secrets of health and air.’ The final line where the speaker declares ‘I must have learnt that from somewhere’ is the speaker learning about this folklore tradition and is, in a sense, Ireland reclaiming itself, despite the colonial influence upon the country.

The pastoral imagery in the poem is so poignantly written, it is a strong reminder of the oppression that women once faced in society and the work it has taken in order to be able to call something their own. The passing of gifts and traditions is so poignant because of the oral tradition of folk tales that Ireland once had, which then became dominated by written poetry from England. The passing of crafts such as the ‘lace bobbin’, ‘knitted in one season to imitate another’ is something that the speaker doesn’t learn, due to this suppression. That Irish folk culture is lost over time due to the battling and bartering for land in Ireland, but is reclaimed in that final line of the poem. This is why the maternal instinct in the poem is so great. What ‘we have to pass onto our daughters’ is the act of healing. The poem is ultimately one of the female spirit, and how it has been subdued but will rise again in the face of oppression. 

Image: Seanegriffin via Pixaby

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