Ms. Boland — her first name was pronounced ee-VANN — published her first poems in her teens and immediately carved out a distinctive creative niche. With chiseled, understated lyrics, she wrote in a manner that reflected her country’s literary heritage while moving it in a new direction.
“She really wrapped her hands around the tree of Irish poetry and shook it to its foundations,” poet Paula Meehan said in 2017.
Ms. Boland often noted that it wasn’t merely social custom that kept Irish women in a subservient role: The idea was enshrined in the country’s constitution, with a clause stating, “by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”
Without denigrating the achievements of male Irish poets, including William Butler Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney, Ms. Boland also looked for inspiration to American poets Adrienne Rich and Denise Levertov, whose works often embodied a politically engaged, female sensibility.
“When I was young,” Ms. Boland told the Irish Times in 1998, “there was a hidden struggle over subject matter going on in Irish poetry. . . . I was aware that it was easier to have a political murder as the subject of an Irish poem than a baby or a washing machine.”
She began to draw on her own experiences, including as the mother of two daughters, to create a new voice in Irish poetry. In Ms. Boland’s view, women no longer had to be seen as muses or as the objects of men’s desire, pity or neglect.
“When I became a mother I felt the powerful necessity of honoring that experience in language, in poetry,” Ms. Boland said in 2012. “I learned a lot from thinking that I wanted to put the life I lived into the poem I wrote and from thinking what would happen if you didn’t do that? You would end up writing someone else’s poem and not honoring the life you lived in terms of creative expression.”
In her 1982 collection “Night Feed,” she drew on paintings of women working in the home for a series of poems, including “The Muse Mother,” in which she wrote of a woman’s desire “to be a sibyl / able to sing the past / in pure syllables / … / able to speak at last / my mother tongue.”
In another from the same volume, “Domestic Interior,” Ms. Boland wrote:
But there’s a way of life
that is its own witness:
Put the kettle on, shut the blind.
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.
Ms. Boland addressed such subjects as motherhood, anorexia, mastectomy and violence. (A 2007 collection had the title “Domestic Violence.”) Her clear implication was that these themes were every bit as important as the battles, political strife, manual labor and male gaze toward women that generations of men had written about.
“I knew that the women of the Irish past were defeated,” Ms. Boland wrote in an autobiographical prose work, “Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Times” (1995). “What I objected to was that Irish poetry should defeat them twice.”
Ms. Boland sometimes made references to classical myths and poetic traditions, but much of her work was expressed in muted language, often in short lines with simple diction and single-syllable words evoking the everyday experiences of women at the hearth or with a child.
“I think these small moments are immensely important,” Ms. Boland said in 1998, “and have their place in poetry.”
Eavan Aisling Boland was born Sept. 24, 1944, in Dublin. Between the ages of 6 and 15, she lived in London and New York, where her father was the Irish ambassador to Great Britain and then the United Nations. Her mother was a painter.
Ms. Boland published her first poems in her teens. She was a 1966 graduate of Trinity College Dublin, where one of her classmates was Mary Robinson, who became Ireland’s first female president.
For years, Ms. Boland balanced teaching at Trinity College and motherhood, while often writing late at night.
“I used to work out of notebooks, and I learned when I had young children that you can always do something,” she told Stanford magazine in 2002. “If you can’t do a poem, you can do a line. And if you can’t do a line, you can do an image — and that pathway that leads you along, in fragments, becomes astonishingly valuable.”
In 1996, Ms. Boland joined the faculty at Stanford. In addition to leading the writing program, she taught popular courses on poetry and Irish literature. She returned frequently to Ireland, where she was staying throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Survivors include her husband of 50 years, novelist Kevin Casey; two daughters; and four grandchildren.
Ms. Boland published more than 10 volumes of poetry and two books of nonfiction prose and edited several other books. She received the Lannan Foundation poetry award in 1994.
“Writing poems, for me, is a bit like mining a seam of rock,” she told the Irish Times in 2007. “One day you get some silver, and the next day you get just rock. But it’s your piece of rock and it doesn’t much change. You just get better at mining it, that’s all.”
One of Ms. Boland’s more provocatively titled collections, “Against Love Poetry” (2001), dedicated to her husband, turned away from the raptures and cliches of young love. Instead, she sought to capture a more mature conception of love, or what she called “the steadfastness between men and women.”
The book contained one Ms. Boland’s starkest poems, “Quarantine,” about an Irish couple setting out on foot in 1847, during the nationwide famine:
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.
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