Weekly Poem: ‘Quarantine’
By Eavan Boland
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking — they were both walking — north.
She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.
In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.
Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.
Eavan Boland is one of Ireland’s most prominent poets. Her poems often examine the lives of women, looking at larger cultural issues through the lens of the details of everyday life. She’s published more than 10 books of verse, most recently, “New Collected Poems.” She is also professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Stanford University.
Watch Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Boland from earlier this year.