Remembering in Boland’s “In Exile”

Remembering in Boland’s “In Exile”

Boland’s poetry is visual and brings forth an image that triggers a remembering and a realization. In her poem, In Exile, we see these elements, the same that Richard York in his critical paper points out. York’s work on Boland’s poetry is especially helpful in understanding this text, as it provides a background on the poet’s other works and establishes her style and approach in writing. Primarily, York analyzed Boland’s works and made a strong argument how she used the element of time to effectively affect the emotion of recollection and the temporal.

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In “In Exile”, Boland describes a memory from her childhood, of the two German girls who helped them in the winter, who were also in exile although at the time she did not know it. She could not understand their language, did not know of their pain and hurt and anger when they spoke, she only associated the images of her Irish home with those voices. Now, forty years after, the persona has grown and herself in a foreign land, it is winter too. And like those German girls, she does not want her speech to heal. What does she mean by this? It could be that where she lives now her people are marginalized and their speech, their language, is their only weapon to assert their identity. If she is the one now in exile, her language is the tool by which she can express the pain and reveal the stories of her past.

York posited that the Boland’s poetry is “essentially elegiac, celebrating and lamenting the past and reflecting the constant presence of death within the everyday consciousness”. Indeed, Boland’s poem goes back to the past and reflects on it before expressing the immediate condition of the persona, making a clear transition from past to present. York’s asserted that Boland’s recreation of the past dealt with something lost, and in this case we can argue that the persona lost her childish innocence now that she knew what being exiled meant for those German girls. But more than just the concept of loss, Boland also has a concept of holding onto: not the past, because in her treatment of the poem she was merely remembering her childhood days, but holding onto what she has left. She has lost her childhood home and is left with only a memory of it, she has lost her land but is left with her language. The organic unity with the image of the German girls and the persona’s situation is impressive. The tone is set: even on the outset it may appear as though everything was fine as her understanding when she was a child, she now knows that there was internal turmoil and everything is not what it seems.

There are other ways of reading “In Exile”, but the rich history from which Boland is writing from might be lost when the text is taken for itself. In this, York’s work was instrumental in underlining Boland’s concern with establishing the past and the present to create that moment in time – with the realization that things change and that there is an end to everything, but for now there is only this moment in time, the moment of realization as the reader understands the persona’s reflection on the past and how it is related to her present.


Boland, Eavan. “In Exile”, in Outside History. W. W. Norton & Company, New York & London, page 46.

York, Richard. “Voice and Vision in the Poetry of Eavan Boland: A Critical Essay”, in the Journal of Irish Studies, January 2007.

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