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A Woman Without a Country

A Woman Without a Country

A Woman Without a Country is a 2014 poetry collection by the influential Irish poet Eavan Boland. It deals with issues of gender and Irish history, as is common in Boland's work.

Below is a summary of the collection and an analysis of some of its poems. You will also find an overview of the key themes in A Woman Without a Country and a summary of Eavan Boland's biography.

Eavan Boland's A Woman Without a Country poetry collection

A Woman Without a Country was the ninth collection of poetry to be written by Irish poet Eavan Boland. It was published in 2014 to positive critical reviews. By the time of publication, Boland was recognised as an important and successful Irish poet.

A Woman Without a Country focuses on Irish history and mythology, as well as on gender issues. These are areas Boland is well known for writing on in her poetry. She often wrote about the historical suffering of the Irish people, particularly Irish women. Boland also draws in elements of Greek and Roman myth in this collection. In A Woman Without a Country, Boland mixes national and personal issues. Both are discussed and intertwined. She explores the impact of emigration on one's sense of national identity, and how women frequently become lost in history and forgotten.

Boland's collection is split into four sections, each with a different title. The four sections are 'Song and Error', 'A Woman Without a Country', 'The Trials of Our Faith', and 'Edge of Empire'. A Woman Without a Country emphasises the importance of the past and its impact on the present.

Eavan Boland's 'A Woman Without a Country' poem

The A Woman Without a Country collection contains a title poem of the same name. It appears within a section of the collection that also holds the same name. 'A Woman Without a Country' is a thirty-line poem with only one stanza.

Boland's poem follows the story of an artist who specialises in metal engraving. He is working during the time of the Potato Famine in Ireland.

The Irish Potato Famine lasted from 1845 to 1849. It began due to a blight that impacted potato crops, a staple part of the Irish diet during that period. The famine caused mass starvation and death. The Irish population fell by two million due to loss of life and emigration. It is now thought that the actions of the British government worsened the famine.

The engraver is creating a picture of an unnamed woman. In 'A Woman Without a Country', Boland focuses on historical and gender issues. She uses dark and ominous language and tone to portray the engraver's portrait of this woman. We can see this language in the quote below.

He starts with the head, cutting in

To the line of the cheek, finding

The slope of the skull, incising

The shape of a face that becomes

A foundry of shadows, rendering-

With a deeper cut into copper-

The whole woman as a skeleton,

The rags of her skirt, her wrist

Is a bony line (ll. 11-19)

Boland uses graphic bodily imagery to describe the portrait of the woman. She is using the poetic device of metaphor here. The nameless woman represents the countless victims of the famine. The poem contains words like 'rags' and 'bony' to emphasise poverty and starvation.

A Metaphor is when a word or phrase is used to represent something else. It often involves the linking of two seemingly unrelated things. Metaphors can reveal a more profound meaning.

The woman's figure is also relevant because of the theme of gender in 'A Woman Without a Country'. Eavan Boland creates an imbalance between the engraver and the woman he portrays. The woman is nameless and is not afforded a voice of her own. The engraver creates an image of her that only he controls. The woman's lack of control is shown in the title of Boland's poem. She has no power over how she is represented or how she may be remembered. This is significant as she is a figure linked to a recorded historical period.

Pitiless tragedy of being imagined. (l. 27)

A Woman Without a Country poem analysis

Now we will analyse some other poems in Boland's collection.

A Woman Without a Country: 'Art of Empire'

'Art of Empire' is an important poem in Boland's A Woman Without a Country collection. It mixes the themes of gender and history that often reoccur in Boland's poetry. Boland's poem is six stanzas long with each stanza consisting of four lines.

'Art of Empire' is about Eavan Boland's grandmother. The poem addresses the issue of silence that is forced on people by both imperialism and gender inequality.

Imperialism is the process by which a country takes over or colonises another territory. This is typically done by violence or military force. Ireland was colonised and subsequently occupied by Britain for approximately eight hundred years.

Boland herself lived in an independent Ireland, but her grandmother lived during the time of British rule. Silence would have been critical in such a world to ensure her safety. Boland also points out that, as a woman under occupation, keeping quiet was even more key.

but a woman skilled in the sort of silence

that lets her stitch shadow flowers

into linen with pastel silks

who never looks up

to remark on or remember why it is

the bird in her blackwork is warning her:

not a word not a word

not a word not a word. (ll. 17-24)

These lines tap into a common theme in the A Woman Without a Country collection and in Boland's work generally. This theme is women's lack of place in the world. As a young poet, Boland was frustrated by the lack of female poets and poems that featured strong female central figures. She also noted how little women's stories were recorded in history. We can say that 'Art of Empire' is her attempt to record her own grandmother's quiet history.

A Woman Without a Country: 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night'

'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night', consisting of one stanza and thirty-six lines, is a very personal poem for Boland. She had two daughters, and it is clear that this poem addresses one of them. In this poem, Eavan Boland again shines a light on female issues in discussing a mother-daughter relationship.

This poem revolves around motherhood, forgiveness, and the past. The narrator of 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night' is a maternal figure looking back at her now adult daughter's childhood. Boland begins her poem by creating pleasant and comfortable imagery. The tone is one of familiarity.

We have a tray, a pot of tea, a scone.

This is the hour

When one thing pours itself into another:

The gable of our house stored in shadow.

A spring planet bending ice

Into an absolute of light. (ll. 1-6)

Boland soon emphasises that the narrator's daughter did not always have a perfect childhood. She looks back on upsetting moments in her daughter's life that it is much too late to change. Spending these late nights together seems to offer a moment of intimacy and reconciliation between the mother and daughter.

'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night' frequently uses the poetic device of enjambment.

Enjambment is a poetic device involving a line of poetry continuing into the following line without being broken up by any punctuation. This device can last for multiple lines or sometimes even multiple stanzas. Enjambment can also be referred to as run-on lines.

Enjambment is used for multiple purposes in poetry. In Boland's case, she may be using it to aid the language in her poem in seeming more natural. It is written from the perspective of a mother addressing her daughter, and run-on lines are close to how most people typically speak. Below is an example of enjambment in 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night'.

Your childhood ended years ago. There is

No path back to it. There is

No certainty I can find

The if or maybe that might remedy

An afternoon you walked up the hill

After school. In winter, in tears. (ll. 7-12)

From your reading of 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night', can you identify any other examples of enjambment in this poem?

Eavan Boland's A Woman Without a Country themes

Let's look at the most common themes found in A Woman Without a Country.

A Woman Without a Country: Female legacy

The key nature of women's issues is a constant in the work of Eavan Boland. Many of the poems in A Woman Without a Country revolve around female characters and their lives. These are both modern women and women from years past. Boland is creating a poetic legacy for women that she believes has been lacking in the canon.

Eavan Boland hints towards this theme in the title of her collection. A Woman Without a Country suggests how little both poetry and history have represented women, despite any influential roles they may have played.

A significant amount of the poems in Boland's collection centre around different aspects of the female experience. For example, 'Art of Empire' details how repressive the world was for Irish women under British imperial rule. Whereas 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night' records an intimate and specific representation of motherhood.

A Woman Without a Country: Irish history

Eavan Boland tried to capture the realities of Irish history in her poetic work. She frequently used dark and harsh language and imagery to capture this theme. A Woman Without a Country collection is no different.

The final section of the collection is entitled 'Edge of Empire'. It contains a selection of poems that revolve around the experience of empire from an Irish perspective in the late Victorian period.

The Victorian period refers to the time when Queen Victoria was monarch of Britain. Her reign lasted from 1837 to 1901. The Victorian period is known for its restrictive social norms.

'Reading the Victorian Novel' is a poem included in this section of A Woman Without a Country. Boland ironically uses tropes of the traditional Victorian novel to point out the hypocrisies of the British Empire. She then urges the speaking of words that portray the real impact of the Empire, as seen in the quote below.

say history say famine

say fever say Trevelyan. (ll. 23-24)

These words reveal what the British Empire was to Ireland. But the stereotypical Victorian characters in Boland's poem ignore this and continue to live their idyllic lives.

A Woman Without a Country: Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland was born in Dublin in 1944. Her mother was a painter and her father was a diplomat. Due to her father's occupation, Boland lived in London and New York during her childhood. She returned to Dublin at the age of fourteen. Boland then attended Trinity College Dublin. She received a degree in English Literature and Language.

Boland began to work as a teacher and reviewer for The Irish Times. She married the novelist Kevin Casey in 1969. The couple had two daughters together.

New Territory (1967) was Boland's first published collection of poetry. It was not an overwhelming critical success. As Boland continued to publish, she began to gain popularity. She became known for her care in capturing the lives of Irish women and her efforts to shed light on the dark parts of Irish history and society. Some of Eavan Boland's collections include In Her Own Image (1980), In a Time of Violence (1994), and A Woman Without a Country (2014).

Boland passed away in 2020 from a stroke. By her death, she had become a highly respected literary figure.

A Woman Without a Country - Key takeaways

  • A Woman Without a Country is a 2014 poetry collection by Irish poet Eavan Boland.
  • This collection focuses on Irish history and gender issues.
  • The title poem of the collection represents both the suffering of the Irish during the famine and the suffering of women in Irish society.
  • 'Art of Empire' and 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night' are two other relevant poems in the A Woman Without a Country collection.
  • Female legacy and Irish history are two common themes in the collection.

Frequently Asked Questions about A Woman Without a Country

'A Woman Without a Country' revolves around a male engraver creating a portrait of a Dublin woman during the Irish Famine. The woman in question is not given a voice or agency in this poem.

Eavan Boland.

The collection contains a multitude of poems, these include 'A Woman Without a Country', 'Art of Empire', 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night' and 'Reading the Victorian Novel'.

2014.

Boland is a highly respected poet who uses rich imagery and accessible language to explore the topics of gender and Ireland.

Final A Woman Without a Country Quiz

Question

When was A Woman Without a Country published?

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Answer

2014.

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Question

What are two key themes in the A Woman Without a Country collection?

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Answer

Female legacy and Irish history.

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Question

Other than the title poem, can you name two other poems from the collection?

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Answer

'Art of Empire' and 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night'.

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Question

What poetic device can be identified in 'Talking to My Daughter Late at Night'?

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Answer

Enjambment.

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Question

What time period is the poem 'A Woman Without a Country' set during?

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Answer

The Irish Famine.

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Question

When was Eavan Boland born?

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Answer

1944.

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Why was creating a female poetic legacy important for Boland?

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Answer

Because she saw the literary canon as lacking it.

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Question

Who is it thought 'Art of Empire' was based on?

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Answer

Boland's grandmother.

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Question

What does 'Art of Empire' show as being forced on people by imperialism?

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Answer

Silence.

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Question

What poetic device is found in the poem 'A Woman Without a Country'?

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Answer

Metaphor.

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Question

What university did Eavan Boland attend?

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Answer

Trinity College Dublin

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How many sections is the collection split into?

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Answer

Four.

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Question

In 'A Woman Without a Country', what do the words 'rags' and 'bony' emphasise?

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Answer

Poverty and starvation.

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How many stanzas does 'Art of Empire' contain?

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Answer

Six.

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Question

What two themes are mixed in 'Art of Empire'?

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Answer

Gender and history.

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