Within ‘The Pomegranate’ Boland uses the Greek myth of Persephone, Ceres, also known as Demeter, and Hades to speak on themes of youth, coming of age, and the passage of time. The mood is at times wistful, but more often than not it is serious and contemplative as the speaker analyzes her own life and her daughter’s. Boland’s tone is thoughtful and she uses complex, personal images to relate the myth to the real world.
The poem takes the reader through distorted scenes from the myth. These collide and transform the speaker’s own life. The imagined and the real worlds come together as the speaker tries to sort out what it means to grow up with the legend and then raise her daughter.
She contends with the passage of time and the choices her daughter is going to have to make. By the end of the poem, she comes to accept the fact that she needs to share the legend with her daughter. Together they can know it, understand, and relate to it, without having to speak about it.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Poetic Technique
‘The Pomegranate’ by Eavan Boland is a fifty-three line poem that’s is contained within one stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse, meaning that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
Boland makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Pomegranate’. These include enjambment, alliteration, and caesura. The latter, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. For instance, line seven reads: “I can enter it anywhere. And have” or, another example, line twenty-eight: “The pomegranate! How did I forget it?”
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “plucked a pomegranate” in line thirty-two and “cars and cable” in line forty-three.
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. For instance, the transition between lines eight and nine, as well as that between lines thirty and thirty-one.
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
In the first lines of ‘The Pomegranate’ the speaker begins by referring to the story of Persephone and her mother “Ceres,” also known as Demeter. This story, which can be found here, involves kidnapping and hell, as is laid out in the lines to come.
The speaker calls Persephone a “daughter lost in hell”. This is exactly what happens to Persephone, and the speaker states that she’s always found the story compelling. It includes “Love and blackmail” and the “best thing” about the legend is that she can “enter it anywhere”. This line ends with the short phrase “And have” suggesting that the speaker has spent a lot of time reading and exploring the myth.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
In the next lines of ‘The Pomegranate’, the speaker describes herself as a child lost in her youth. Her path to adulthood was obscured by fog and “strange consonants”. She found the story at a young age and it served as an entry point into a larger world. The speaker recalls how the first time she read it, she ended up “in the crackling dusk of / the underworld”. It was so real, so moving and captivating that she found herself within it, in the place of Persephone.
Now, as an adult, she explores the narrative as Ceres, searching for her daughter in a very different world. No longer is she lost, taken in and tricked by an older man. Now, she’s in charge of another being who she loves as much as Ceres loved Persephone. Lines fifteen and sixteen refer to the bargain that Persephone was eventually forced to strike with Hades in order see her daughter for part of the year. The speaker knows she’d do anything to “keep her”. This is connected to Ceres’ determination to destroy the earth’s harvests for the rest of time if she didn’t get what she wanted.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
The story of the speaker and her daughter is expanded beyond the story of Persephone and Ceres, but remains connected to it. The speaker describes carrying her daughter back home past the flowers and insects in the field that Persephone was so attracted to. But, at the same time, she was “Ceres then and…knew / winter was in store for every leaf”. Time is going to pass, she’s seen it dozens of times and knows what has to happen. here, she is alluding to her daughter’s future. She knows how the story ends.
For the speaker, she adds, “It is winter / and the stars are hidden”. These lines add to the atmosphere Boland has been creating. One that exists in the real world, but is tinged with unusual beauty and magic. The disappearance of the stars may allude to the unpromising future relationship between the speaker and the daughter, as well as her own unhappiness with the state of the world and how it takes and takes.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
The next scene of ‘The Pomegranate’ is rooted in the real world and speaks to the daughter’s age. She’s sleeping “beside her teen magazines, / her can of Coke”. These symbolize the years that have passed and the daughter’s relationship to Persephone who was surely around that age when she was taken. Also in front of the daughter, startlingly and metaphorically, is a pomegranate. The speaker exclaims at its presence. Asking herself “How did I forget it?” This question is aimed at herself, not at the reader or a listener. She knows, from reading the story so many times, what the fruit symbolizes.
If she’d been paying more attention, then things might’ve been different and the story might’ve ended happily. But that’s not what happens.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
When the daughter reaches for the pomegranate does this, everything changes. Sounds and space, memory and myth collide and the daughter is set on a path that is inescapable. Despite the fact that the daughter has reached out, taken the pomegranate, and in all reality made her choice, the speaker feels as though “there is still a chance”. She should be able to do something to save her daughter from becoming trapped in a world she isn’t ready for or coming under the sway of an influence as strong as Hades’ was in the story of Persephone.
‘The Pomegranate’ cascades imagery at the reader. These lines reference the progression of time, as well as the central themes of the legend of Persephone. There are “unshed tears” that can’t stay unshed forever.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
Utilizing anaphora in the next lines of ‘The Pomegranate’ the speaker brings in a variety of imagery. The scene is confusing and the reader is surrounded by the speaker’s thoughts and mental connections to the story and her real life. She takes note of her immediate surroundings. Each of these images will mean something different to the reader who encounters them, but they come up naturally and depict a space that is once again, between the real world and something more magical.
The poet asks, rhetorically, “what else / can a mother give her daughter but such / beautiful rifts in time?” This “rift” in time harkens back to the speaker’s own ability to enter into the story of Persephone. By passing the story on to her daughter, and all its connecting memories and associations, she’s sharing something quite important.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
In the last lines of ‘The Pomegranate’, the speaker acknowledges that the legend will be her daughter’s and her own. She will enter into the world of Persephone and the power exerted by Hades over them all. The daughter “will wake up” from where she is sleeping and “hold / the papery flushed skin in her hand”. There will be silence between mother and daughter. But they will both understand their connection to the story and its overall importance to their lives.