‘Love’ was published in Eavan Boland’s 1994 collection In a Time of Violence. It speaks on themes of love, regret, and memory.
The poem begins with several images of a small, simple town. These are contrasted with those of a hero entering into death. The speaker directs her words to her partner, telling this person about their lives together and how there are moments she wants to return to the past. They once almost lost their child, but they were also so deeply in love. This emotional existence is long since gone, though. Now, they are adjusted to a new, less passionate relationship.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Love’ by Eavan Boland is a six stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines. These stanzas range in length from three up to thirteen lines each. Although there is no single rhyme scheme, there are examples of half-rhyme within the text. These are seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse.
For an example of consonance, a reader can look to the third line of the first stanza with the repetition of the “d” sound in “Dusk,” “hidden,” and “bridge”. There is another example with the “r” sound in line one of the second stanza, with the words “far,” “from,” “here,” “our,” and “apartment”. For an example of assonance, a reader should look to line twelve of the second stanza with the repetition of the “o” sound in “no,” and “knowing”.
Boland also makes use of several poetic techniques. These include alliteration, enjambment, anaphora, and caesura. The latter, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The third line of the second stanza is a great example: “We had a view. And we discovered there”.
A reader will also notice alliteration in ‘Love’.It is seen when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “snow” and “shoulders” in line three of the fourth stanza and line four of the third stanza with: “Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances”.
Boland also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. There is a perfect example of the second stanza. Lines two and three both begin with “We had a”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout ‘Love’ but one includes the transit between lines one and two of the first stanza.
Analysis of Love
Dark falls on this mid-western town
the hero crossed on his way to hell.
In the first stanza of ‘love,’ the speaker begins by describing the past. She recalls a “mid-western town” and how the light faded from day, to dusk, to night. When it was disappearing the “bridge in the river” became hidden. The bridge is described in mystical language, connecting it to undefined legends and myths. (Alluding vaguely to the river Styx in Greek mythology). She speaks of “the hero” and how it as on this bridge that “slides and deepens,” transforming into the water, that he crossed on “his way to hell”.
Within this stanza, and in the rest of the poem, the mundane is mixed with the legendary. The speaker discusses her own life in a mid-western town and her love in combination with a story of an unknown hero. The poet’s tone is nostalgic, but at times also sorrowful.
Not far from here is our old apartment.
a brother of fire and air.
In the next set of lines, the speaker brings the commonplace back to the forefront. This is juxtaposed with the image of the hero proceeding into hell at the end of the first stanza. She considers her past and the layout of the town. She speaks of “our old apartment”. Through the use of the first person plural pronoun, the reader becomes aware that she’s directing her words to a specific listener, or that she is speaking for more than one person. Likely, the person with whom she shared her life in the town.
In their house, they had simple furnishings and a view. Despite the basic surroundings, they discovered important things there. These include that “love had the feather and muscle of wings / and had come to live with us”. Love is personified as something physical and recognizable. Boland makes use of traditional imagery, referencing an angelic presence, the “brother of fire and air”. This is another example of less exacting, more magical language. By moving back and forth between simple imagery and that which is more complex, the poet wants to speak about love as something transcendent and otherworldly. But, at the same time, as something present within the real world.
We had two infant children one of whom
about a life they had shared and lost.
In the next lines of the second stanza, the speaker adds that she and her partner had “two infant children”. One of these kids was “touched by death,” but not taken. This is compared to how the hero was celebrated by those he knew in hell. A dramatic image ends this stanza with the speaker describing the hero’s comrades in hell attempting to speak, but being unable to. All of these otherworldly scenes of drama and magic seem to be representative of some aspect of the poet’s own life. They relate in some tangential way to the life she was living and the mundanity of her town.
I am your wife.
we speak plainly. We hear each other clearly.
The third stanza is only four lines long. It presents the reader with a number of short statements that very bluntly define what life was like “years ago”. They had a child, she was “your wife” and still, now, after time has passed, they still love one another. Their lives have settled down, allowing them to speak easily and clearly and hear one another correctly.
And yet I want to return to you
and a car passing with its headlights on:
The fourth stanza is also four lines long. She confesses to a desire to “return to” her partner as he was in the past. The speaker remembers a specific memory, and the special kind of love she felt then and describes it in simple terms. She does not use emotional language, but it is clear the image is of importance.
I see you as a hero in text–
the image blazing and the edges gilded–
so formidable at rest it offered us ascension
even to look at him?
In the fifth stanza of ‘Love,’ the speaker compares her partner to the “hero in a text”. She sees him as a “blazing” image on a golden page. This vision in her mind makes her regret the loss of their intense love of the past. It was degraded over the years, by fears and the common everyday practice of life.
The speaker asks her partner two rhetorical questions. The second is concerned with the previous feelings of “ascension” she once felt with this person. “He,” the personification of love, has yet to return in the form they once knew him.
But the words are shadows and you cannot hear me.
You walk away and I cannot follow
The last stanza is only two lines long. It concludes ‘Love’ solemnly and regretfully. But, at the same time, there’s an element of acceptance. She knows that she can’t go back to the past, nor can she force their emotions to return to a previous state. Now, the words she speaks are “shadow”. They touch and change nothing.