Monday, June 16, 2008

Reading Boland's "Night Feed" (1982) Part 1

Back to Boland. The title of this collection indicates the main subject, that of maternity. The first poem “Domestic Interior” is “for Kevin,” apparently the poet’s husband. An ekphrastic poem in part, it names the artist—Van Eyck—but not the painting. The description seems to fit The Arnolfini Portrait.



The painting is of a recently married couple, but the poem describes only the woman who is “as round/ as the new ring/ ambering her finger” and who “has long since been bedded.” The man appears in the poem in the figure of the artist “by whose edict” the woman will stay “burnished, fertile,/ on her wedding day,/ interred in her joy.” The pejorative diction here suggests that the male gaze is imperious (“edict”), deceptive (“burnished”), exploitative (”fertile”), and, perhaps, even murderous (“interred”). Though the eye of the poet’s husband is “loving, bright/ and constant,” yet it shows this woman only “in her varnishes.”

The poet opposes the superficial male gaze with “a way of life/ that is its own witness.” This way of life begins with simple, caring domestic chores: “Put the kettle on, shut the blind.” It sees that Home is “a sleeping child,” “an open mind,”

and our effects
shrugged and settled
in the sort of light
jugs and kettles
grow important by.


Love is not to be judged by its promise (“the ring”) on wedding day; it is to be judged by its “effects,” or consequences (“jugs and kettles”), in the day-to-day of living together afterwards. This last stanza fulfils the prosodic expectations of the previous stanzas beautifully. All the stanzas have five lines each. Most of the lines have two heavy stresses but some have one (“The oils”), or three (“a quiet search for attention"), or four ("Put the kettle on, shut the blind”). The last stanza not only brings the last long sentence to a rest, it also regularizes the number of stresses per line to two.

and our effects
shrugged and settled
in the sort of light
jugs and kettles
grow important by.


Also, scanned metrically, the last line is iambic, omitting the initial unstressed syllable. The vowel and consonantal sounds in “shrugged and settled” are repeated in “jugs and kettles,” while the vowel sounds in “in the sort of light” are repeated in “grow important by.” The sound patterning combines with the rhythm and syntax to give the conclusion its extraordinarily convincing coloring.

__________

Reading “Domestic Interior”

These linen sheets are washed to silk, they are
so soft. They’re older than the two of us.
You asked me this morning for the weather.
It’s fine. It’s delicate. It’s luxurious.

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