Poetry Close Reading: Quarantine by Eavon Boland

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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.

This powerful poem begins with a decisive use of repetition, as Boland repeats the word worst three times in the first two lines. This word is also set up to parallel whole as it describes a whole people at the end of the second line. Boland sets up a pattern in the first line, then continues it in the beginning of the second, but then breaks it subtley, and you encounter the whole where you expected to find another worst (though if you were actually following the story of the poem you wouldn’t really be suprised). This is compounded by her use of the conjunction of to draw us forward. This is shown in the first stanza as well as the third, "Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history." The use of short chopped sentences connected by conjunctions also gives the poem a plodding feeling, which fits clearly with the subject of the poem:

He was walking—they were both walking—north.

He walked like that west and west and north.

Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.

Eavon also uses a very interesting time-perspective; the poem begins zoomed into the worst hour then quickly moves out to the worst year of a whole people. The sheer power of a statement such as the worst hour is compounded by the repetition at different scales until we are thinking about the history of a whole people. Then the poem moves into a narrative about a generic man and his wife—the prototypical victims of this horrible time—as they are walking somewhere. Boland then mentions the otherwise assumed fact that both the man and his wife are walking, forshadowing the wife’s eventual debilitating illness; not to mention the image of both individuals merely walking, very much alive.

The overall poem has a plodding inevitability about it. Lines such as the first few, the second stanza with:

He walked like that west and west and north.

and then in the third stanza:

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.

Read the whole poem here.

Fiction Close Reading: The Communist by Richard Ford

Fiction Close Reading: The Communist by Robert Ford
Richard Ford demonstrates several useful techniques in his short story The Communist I have chosen to focus on the final two paragraphs (page 542). He creates vivid imagery that serves to stop time in the story, and take up space, filling out the scene. The images are then qualified, and reinforced, which is the first hint of the sense of desperation that will only grow. There is a feeling of circularity, that the narrator is stuck in the telling and retelling of the story, and the reader really feels this. The images are reinforced and restated, as if to say, ”No, really, it was like this…“ The circularity is also strengthened by the heavy use of and to begin sentences, which keeps the story moving by pulling the reader onwards, as well as adding a sense of inevitability. The perspective of the story begins at a wider level, when the narrator is 41, then zooms in, then returns to the 41 year-old narrator at the end. This combines with the other elements to show that the story is as much about the narrator today as it is about the story itself. The piece is about the narrator, at age 41, being stuck in a retelling of this story of him at age 16, and the importance of that story on him now. The overall tone is decidedly dreary and sad. There is also an echoing of the image of the geese, which were instrumental in the plot of the story and haunt the young narrator at the end of the story much like the incident as a whole haunts the narrator as he tries to move on with his life. 


And I stood there sheltered by the counter, the café laid out before me, watching as the customers sipped and chattered, the small tables filled for the pre-lunch snack, the counters beginning to fill. And then she was there, before me, suddenly. And I had no chance to prepare, to think. Suddenly I became aware of the sea that separated us; the countertop poked its head through the waves, a sandbar for the wayfarer. She approached, and she surely knew, I had the earring in still, at that point. She ordered a coffee, and I slowly turned to the machines to prepare her drink. It was like walking through molasses, I could feel her beauty radiating down on me. The earring glowed hot in my ear, and I was ashamed. But I made her drink and began to ring her up when she leaned over and ever so gently lifted the earring in my left ear; she said she couldn’t believe how it could have happened, how I could have found it.
I often think back to this afternoon, when I first saw the hand of fate’s inflection. The sense of universal order, but also chaos; and of course how a piece of metal could have acted as an agent of history, a great force bringing us together despite the slanted odds of circumstance. I see in my wife this power, and I feel in my ear the tug of that which brought us together.