How We Made a New Art on Old Ground By Eavan Boland

A famous battle happened in this valley.   
                     You never understood the nature poem.   
Till now. Till this moment—if these statements   
                     seem separate, unrelated, follow this   

silence to its edge and you will hear   
                     the history of air: the crispness of a fern   
or the upward cut and turn around of   
                     a fieldfare or thrush written on it.   

The other history is silent: The estuary   
                     is over there. The issue was decided here:   
Two kings prepared to give no quarter.   
                     Then one king and one dead tradition.   

Now the humid dusk, the old wounds   
                     wait for language, for a different truth:   
When you see the silk of the willow   
                     and the wider edge of the river turn   

and grow dark and then darker, then   
                     you will know that the nature poem   
is not the action nor its end: it is   
                     this rust on the gate beside the trees, on

the cattle grid underneath our feet,   
                     on the steering wheel shaft: it is   
an aftermath, an overlay and even in   
                     its own modest way, an art of peace:

I try the word distance and it fills with   
                     sycamores, a summer's worth of pollen   
And as I write valley straw, metal   
                     blood, oaths, armour are unwritten.   

Silence spreads slowly from these words   
                     to those ilex trees half in, half out   
of shadows falling on the shallow ford   
                     of the south bank beside Yellow Island   

as twilight shows how this sweet corrosion   
                     begins to be complete: what we see   
is what the poem says:   
                     evening coming—cattle, cattle-shadows—

and whin bushes and a change of weather   
                     about to change them all: what we see is how
the place and the torment of the place are   
                     for this moment free of one another.
Eavan Boland, “How We Made a New Art on Old Ground” from Against Love Poetry: Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Poetry (November 2001).

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