This poem was published in Domestic Violence in 2007. It explores many of the themes readers of Bolan’s poetry are likely to be familiar with, like alienation, loss, family, and Ireland.
When speaking about the poem, Boland describes the two contexts she had in mind. First, she discussed her mother’s declining health in August that year, and second, the particularly wet summer season in Dublin (the wettest in decades). The continual rain, she said, filled the city, completely drenching it.
She observed the trees, branches, and plants changed by the rain as she went back and forth to see her mother and used the poem to relate the two contexts. Boland was also interested in the idea of a body returning to the elements it came from after death.
Explore And Soul
‘And Soul’ by Eavan Boland describes a rainy summer in Dublin and Boland’s mother’s declining health and death.
This evocative poem begins with the speaker describing how one summer, the rain fell so heavily and destructively that it dissolved possessions and drenched plant life. It was this same summer that the poet’s mom’s health declined rapidly. She saw her mother’s frailty and connected her growing weakness to her body composition—mostly water, to the rain falling nearly non-stop around them.
You can read the full poem here.
The main themes of this poem are nature and mortality. The poet discusses the declining death of her mother and how she passed away in the middle of an uncharacteristically rainy season. The rain builds a haunting and contemplative atmosphere in the poem that inspires the poet to consider what human beings are made of and how, after death, one’s body returns to the elements from which it came.
Structure and Form
‘And Soul’ by Eavan Boland is a thirty-nine-line poem contained within a single stanza of text (known as block form). The poem is written in free verse. The poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines use different end sounds and are of different lengths. But, the poet did use examples of assonance and consonance, as described below, to help give structure and the feeling of rhythm to her text.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: seen through the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “I,” which starts lines eleven and twelve, and “the,” which begins lines thirty and thirty-one.
- Consonance: seen through the repetition of the same consonant sound in multiple words. For example, “wettest,” “state,” “rotted,” and “west” in lines two and three.
- Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader’s senses. For example, “through lilacs dripping blackly / behind houses.” (This is also an example of hyperbole.)
- Allusions: a reference to something outside the scope of the poem. For example, the poet mentions a river in Dublin and spends the rest of the poem alluding to the climate of that particular part of Ireland.
My mother died one summer—
the wettest in the records of the state.
the last tribute of a daughter, I thought of something
In the first lines of ‘And Soul,’ the speaker begins by recalling the summer her mother died. It was a particularly rainy summer, she adds. This creates an immediate juxtaposition between what expects of that particular season and what it delivers. Crops that should’ve flourished—rotted and the summer tablecloths on backyard tables dissolved in the rain. The world was prepared for summer (stereotypically a care-free, happy time of year), but it got something very different.
The speaker describes driving through traffic that summer to get to her mother. She would “pay her / the last tribute of a daughter.” This suggests that her mother is an important figure in her life but that there is also an element of duty here. There is little emotion in these opening lines. Instead, it feels more like the speaker is taking this trip to see her dying mother out of obligation.
Bolan uses examples of imagery throughout this poem to convey a particular atmosphere. Here, she describes ” lilacs dripping blackly / behind houses,” which elevates the already gloomy feeling of the poem. They’re wilting from the rain, and by describing them as “black,” the speaker again alludes to how unlike summer this summer is turning out to be.
Lines 12- 20
I heard once, that the body is, or is
said to be, almost all
In the next lines, the speaker elaborates on something she once heard. It relates to human mortality and the human condition. Her memories of her mother’s passing remind her of how the body “is” or “is / said to be, almost all / water.” The body is made of this one, unimportant seeming material that relates through the poet’s use of imagery to how she’s been describing summer.
There’s been an immense amount of rain this summer that is changing the world around her (as described in the first stanza), and human beings are made out of the same substance. This example of irony speaks to humanity’s capacity for the same kind of unending destruction and the way human beings are related to the natural world.
Boland said that if the body is almost all water, then it fills the body and is reflected in the world around them speaker’s dying mother. She was dying, and her body would soon return to the elements from which it came.
the ocean visible in the edges cut by it,
cloud color reaching into air,
the mind is unreliable in grief, at
In this section of lines, the speaker continues discussing Dublin, Ireland, a city that she cares deeply about and which, at this time of year, reflects her emotional state. She references “the Liffey” in line three, an allusion to the river that flows through the city of Dublin. She emphasizes how much water there is in a human being’s life in these lines, from the north to the speaker’s local river and the broader ocean itself. She drove on, headed toward her mother and still deep in thought about life and death.
the next cloudburst it almost seemed
they could be shades of each other,
as I went inside.
In the final few lines, the speaker relates the human body to the rain and how they could “be shades of each other.” They are so close in composition, frailty, and opposing strength. Her water images come together and focus on the water that lands on the railings of the house her mother was dying in.
The poem ends on this note, with the speaker arriving at her mother’s door to face the death of someone she dearly loves. She is water, surrounded by water, and caring for someone who is also almost entirely water, she’s said.
The speaker is a woman whose mother is dying. She’s never named or described in any detail. The poet uses the female first-person narrator throughout the poem.
The tone is solemn and thoughtful. The speaker is contemplative and spends the majority of the poem dwelling on her mother’s illness and coming death as well as the human condition more generally.
The message is that one should care for and appreciate their loved ones while their still alive. All humans are mortal, mostly water and walking on a path towards death. The poet also explores the effect that a mother’s death has on a daughter.
The poet penned this particular poem to discuss her mother’s death and her experience in Dublin in August of that year. She was also interested in discussing the physical and metaphysical body.
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.