Eavan Boland

Amethyst Beads by Eavan Boland

‘Amethyst Beads’ by Eavan Boland alludes to Greek mythology and the suffering of a child, Persephone, after she was separated from her mother, Demeter.

The speaker, like meant to be Persephone, wears the amethyst bead necklace and, when thinking about it, is inspired to remember the grief of her childhood and how she was torn from her mother. She was in the middle of a bargain, one made between a mother and a “sullen king,” Hades. 

This is one of a few poems Boland has written that focuses on life and Persephone’s experiences. 

Amethyst Beads by Eavan Boland


Summary

‘Amethyst Beads’ by Eavan Boland is a poem about Persephone’s suffering after being kidnapped by Hades. 

In the first part of the poem, the poet begins by describing the speaker taking out a necklace and relating it to feelings from the past and various impressions, many of which are dark and sorrowful. But, there is also an element of light there as the beads serve as a reminder of the life, filled with beauty and joy, that Persephone lived before becoming Hades’ queen. The poem concludes with a few lines that tap in, quite emotionally, to a child’s sorrow and concern that they will be forgotten. 

You can read the full poem here

Themes

Throughout this poem, the poet engages with the themes of mother/daughter relationships and loss. The poet alludes to the suffering Persephone and her mother, Demeter, endured after the former was kidnapped and forced into becoming Hades’ queen in the underworld. The poet does not mention the two by name, instead preferring to spend the lines speaking about a child’s sorrow more generally and representing it through an amethyst bead necklace. 

Structure and Form 

‘Amethyst Beads’ by Eavan Boland is a free verse poem that is written in block form. This means that the lines are contained within a single stanza. The poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme throughout her twenty-eight lines. But, there are examples of repetitive rhyme and rhyme. 

For example, “bargaining” and “arguing” are half-rhymes, and there are examples of the corresponding sibilance at the end of lines, like “simples” and “say, or tansy.” 

The repetition at the end of the poem of “Who will never remember this” also creates a predictable structure of sorts. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:

  • Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of verse. This usually occurs due to the poet’s use of punctuation. For example, “of survival. And when I wear them, it is almost.” 
  • Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “the” begins lines two and three (as well as several others later in the poem). 
  • Enjambment: occurs when a poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines four and five. 
  • Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “And when I wear them, it is almost / as if my skin was taking into itself.”
  • Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader to imagine a scene, feeling, experience, and more in great detail. For example, “Or camomile which they kept / to cool fever.”


Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-11

And when I take them out of

the cherrywood box these beads are

(…)

with a sullen king. Promising and arguing: 

In the first part of the poem, the poet begins in the middle of a scene. This is a literary technique known as in medias res. Boland forces the reader to figure out the details at the moment without prefacing the information at all. 

Her speaker describes the amethyst beads and taking them out of the box made of cherrywood. The beads are “the color of dog-violets in the shadow.” They are darker at the “well of the throat,” she adds. 

A few lines later, the poet adds some much-needed context to the poem. She refers to a “strayed child,” “her mother bargaining,” and “a sullen king.” With these few descriptions and knowledge of the poet’s body of work, it’s easily assumed that Boland is returning to the myth of Persephone and Demeter. 

The former became the quit of the underworld, wife to the “sullen king,” Hades. Her mother, Demeter, attempted to save her from this fate, bargaining with Zeus and with Hades in an attempt to bring her daughter back.

Lines 12-19

what she can keep, what she can let him have. Shadows 

(…)

a medicine of light. Something like the old simples.

She describes the bargain that Zeus eventually decides on. He commands that Persephone should spend half the year with her husband, Hades, and half the year with her mother, Demeter. The poem alludes to the child, Persephone, being stolen from the earth while seeking out a particularly beautiful flower and how everyone had to compromise to get something of what they wanted. 

The speaker refers to themselves in the first person, saying that when they wear the beads, “it is almost / as if my skin was taking into itself / a medicine of light.” They seem to remind the speaker of a different time, a time of “old simples,” the next phrase adds. Although the beads cure nothing, their presence represents the sorrow and struggle the mother and daughter had to face, and the conflict as Persephone became accustomed to her new role as Queen of Hades. 

Lines 20-28 

Rosemary, say, or tansy.

(…)

Who will never remember this. 

When considering what the beads remind her of, she mentions, “Rosemary, say, or tansy. / Or camomile which they kept / to cool fever.” These are herbs that were once used for soothing a child who is tossing in bed, sick with worry, fear, or a combination of both. 

The child, Persephone, cries out in her sleep, “Don’t leave me here” and “Wait for me.” She’s fearful of what’s going to happen next in her life, and whether or not she’s ever going to escape from the place she’s been taken to—Hades. The poem ends with a single line repeated. The poet writes, “Who will never remember this.” This alludes to the child’s fear, as well as the mother’s, that nothing is going to change the situation they’re in. Over time, people are going to forget, and no one is going to be willing to help Persephone return to her grief-stricken mother. 

FAQs 

Why did Eavan Boland write ‘Amethyst Beads?’

The poet penned this particular poem to explore Greek mythology and reinterpret it in her characteristically feminist way. There is a history in contemporary poetry or re-writing classic myths, or looking at them differently, that focuses on the female characters. In this case, Boland is far more interested in the mother-daughter relationship than in the relationship between Hades and Persephone. 

Who is the speaker in ‘Amethyst Beads?’

The speaker is someone who has intimate knowledge of the conflict at the heart of the Persephone, Demeter, and Hades myth. It could be Persephone speaking in the third person (at times) about her own experience as the “child” kidnapped and suffering, or it could be another unnamed character. 

What is the tone of ‘Amethyst Beads?’ 

The tone is reflective and nostalgic. The speaker looks back on the past through images of herbs, a mother caring for her child, and the fear that the child will never return to that place of comfort. 

What kind of poem is ‘Amethyst Beads?’

Amethyst Beads’ is a free-verse poem written in block form. The poem contains a total of 28 lines and does not follow a specific rhyme scheme. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Eavan Boland poems. For example: 

  • Child of Our Time’ –  was published in the poet’s 1975 collection The War Horse. This poem was written after a series of car bombs were detonated in Dublin and Monaghan in May of 1974.
  • Outside History’ –  takes the reader through the life and death of a star and how human experience, particularly that of Irish women erased from history, relates. 
  • Love’ – was published in Eavan Boland’s 1994 collection In a Time of Violence. It speaks on themes of love, regret, and memory.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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