The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me by Eavan Boland

‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ speaks on themes of love, relationships, time, and aging. Boland crafts a story around a fan her mother gave her, imbuing it with details she couldn’t possibly know and therefore commenting on the place, power, and influence of the past. 

The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me by Eavan Boland

 

Summary of The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me

‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ by Eavan Boland is a fictionalized story of the origins of a black fan owned by the poet’s mother in pre-war Paris. 

The poem begins with the speaker setting out the most basic details. The fan, which she now possesses, once belonged to her mother. It was the first gift he, presumably the poet’s father, gave to the mother. Over the next lines the speaker, who is likely Boland herself, creates a detailed history of how the fan was acquired. She goes into its material properties as well as its construction. The poem concludes with a new image, that of a blackbird. 

You can read the full poem The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me here.

 

Structure of The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me

The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ by Eavan Boland is a twenty-eight line poem that does not follow a specific rhyme scheme. But, 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 example “emptying” and “killing” in line eleven, as well as “feels “ and “heat” in line twenty-seven. 

 

Poetic Techniques in The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me

Boland also makes use of several poetic techniques. These include repetition, alliteration, anaphora, enjambment, and caesura. The first, repetition, is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone, or phrase within a poem. For example, the repetitive occurrence of words ending in “-ing” through ‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’. They are scattered throughout the poem, in almost every stanza. Repetition is seen through the use of weather-related imagery, such as “overcast” and “drought” or “dusk” and “heat”. 

Alliteration is also a kind of repetition. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, in the second line, “for five francs” or “no way” and “none” in lines twenty-three and twenty-four. 

Boland also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, “She” starts lines nine, ten, and twelve. Another technique, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half. Sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. Among other examples, this can be seen in line three: “in pre-war Paris. It was stifling”. As well as in line six, “They met in cafes. She was always early”. 

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 the poem, but one includes the transition between lines two and three. 

 

Analysis of The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me

Stanza One

It was the first gift he ever gave her,
buying it for five francs in the Galeries
in pre-war Paris. It was stifling.
A starless drought made the nights stormy.

In the first stanza of ‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ the speaker begins by referring to the “first gift” ever given to “her”. This is the story of how an unknown man, presumably the poet’s father, gave an unnamed woman, the poet’s mother, a black lace fan. With the title in mind, a reader can assume that this fan was then passed on to the poet, the narrator telling this story.

The fan was bought many years ago in Paris as of yet untouched by the Second World War. As is the case in many of Boland’s poems, ‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ is filled with lines of different lengths. There are the shorter choppier sections and the longer more lyrical ones. The second half of the third line is abrupt, introducing the weather in the narrative. The fan was bought by necessity as well as out of love. Or so the poet has decided.

The scene is described in more detail through the weather in line four. Here, the speaker adds that in general, the weather wasn’t great. This is an interesting contrast and might speak more broadly to the people and their movements/opinions/actions than the actual climate. 

 

Stanza Two

They stayed in the city for the summer.
(…)
They wrapped the fan. He looked at his watch.

In the next lines, the speaker adds details about this specific time period in Paris. The man and woman enjoyed the city throughout the summer. They met up, she was “always early”. They spent time in cafes and he always arrived “late”. On one specific evening, during which he bought the fan, he was even later. Jumping back and forth between scenes, the speaker adds that “They,” likely those who sold the man the fan, wrapped it up for him. While she waited for him, he “looked at his watch” conscious of how late he was. 

 

Stanza Three

They stayed in the city for the summer.
(…)
They wrapped the fan. He looked at his watch.

Boland takes the reader back to the woman in the next lines. By moving so quickly from person to person and scene to scene within the format of short sentence fragments, a reader is encouraged to move quickly. These are memories flashing by, scenes that are long since over. 

The heat was a problem that night, oppressive and inescapable. It became late, and the woman started to worry about the weather and the distant “rain and lightning”. 

 

Stanza Four

These are wild roses, appliquéd on silk by hand,
(…)
clear patience of its element. It is

In the next lines of The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ Boland shifts to another scene in which she describes the fan. It is delicate with “wild roses” sewn onto “silk by hand”. These were created “boldly, quickly”. The fan embodies the elements of its design. It is patient, yet quick, reticent, yet bold. Boland uses enjambment very skillfully in the sixteenth line by pausing after the words “It is”. 

 

Stanza Five

a worn-out, underwater bullion and it keeps,
(…)
it opened for and offset had entered it.

The next lines continue the weather-related imagery, applying it to the fan. These lines are different in that they move into the present in which the speaker is considering the fan in its current condition. It has changed since it was first purchased. Now, the “lace is overcast” as if the weather on that night “entered it” and transformed it. 

 

Stanza Six

The past is an empty café terrace.
(…)
none at all — unless, of course, you improvise:

Line twenty-one is a singular statement that sets the tone for the rest of the poem. She speaks of the past as an “empty cafe terrace”. The summer days in Paris are over, and her mother who once knew them has passed them on, through the fan, to her daughter who is telling this story. The past is compared to “airless dusk before thunder”.

These images come quickly, one after another, building upon the previous. They form a loose picture of the past, one that it is impossible to fully know. Boland alludes to this, and then adds, that it is possible to know “what happened then”if “you improvise”. This phrase is followed by a colon, leading the reader into the last four lines. 

 

Stanza Seven

The blackbird on this first sultry morning,
(…)
the whole, full, flirtatious span of it.

The conclusion of The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me’ is quite different from the rest of the poem. Now, the fan is related to a blackbird, of the same color. These lines, which depict a blackbird putting out the “full, flirtatious span” of its wing, relate directly to the history of the fan. But, they reveal it in a new light. Now, the fan has power and beauty it doesn’t possess as it sits in the speaker’s hands. It is related to themes of freedom, power, and sexuality.

 In tandem with the previous stanza, it is important to consider that this history is not entirely true. Some of it, at least the most detailed parts, were most certainly invented by the poet in order to expand the story. This is part of the most important theme of ‘The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me,’ the passage of time and the changes it brings. The past is over, no one can know it fully, and now if it is to be lived again, it must be reinvented. Some improvisation is needed. 

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