by Eavan Boland
Upon analysing a poem, I find it useful to decode it in a particular way. I like to read the poem as if it were a story. This helps me to generate an understanding of both the poet and the poem’s context. The following notes outline the story of ‘The Pomegranate’. Once an understanding of this poem’s story has been established you will then be able to more effectively create your own opinions and observations.
The Story of the Poem
- Boland often employs the poetic technique of allusion (referencing external literature to help convey a message). In this instance she references the ancient Greek and Roman myth that tells the story of how Persephone was abducted by the god of the underworld. Persephone was eventually rescued but while she had been abducted she had eaten six forbidden pomegranate seeds. She had therefore been condemned to spend six months of every year in the underworld. This poem is about ‘Love and blackmail…’ and the relationship between mothers and daughters.
- In this poem Boland compares herself to both Persephone and Ceres (Persephone’s mother and the goddess of agriculture) ‘the love of a mother for her daughter and the deal she had to make to see her again’.
- Boland, as a child, felt as though she had been ‘exiled’ to the city of London. The poet draws parallels between her own childhood experiences of moving worlds (from Dublin to London) and the movement Persephone makes between the natural world and the underworld.
- In later life Boland finds that she becomes much more comparable to Ceres, Persephone’s mother. Boland recalls this Greek and Roman myth on summer’s nights when she waits for her own daughter to return home from playing in the housing estate ‘When she came running in I was ready to make bargain to keep her’. Boland struggles with the notion that her daughter will one day leave the home for good and compares this feeling to the feeling Ceres must have felt every time Persephone was sentenced to the underworld.
- Boland is aware that her relationship with her daughter will eventually change and also recognises that winter is in store ‘And for me. It is winter and the stars are hidden’. Winter perhaps represents Boland’s own death or the inevitable maturing of her daughter. Boland worries about the eventual separation that their relationship will experience.
- The line ‘Its is winter…’ marks a turning point within the poem. There is a definite and intentional dramatic quality to this line and it possibly represents a shift from the past to the present (when Boland’s daughter is a teenager). Boland describes how she watches her daughter sleep and how she is filled with contrasting emotions while doing this.
- The poet mentions various objects that are found in her daughter’s bedroom. A ‘…plate of uncut fruit’ represents the pomegranate and also serves as a reminder of the previously mentioned myth for the reader. In the context of the poem the act of eating fruit symbolises the instigation of leaving worlds (natural world to underworld and childhood to adulthood).
- Boland considers how Persephone’s life may have been different had she had the discipline not to eat the forbidden fruit ‘…but she reached out a hand and plucked a pomegranate’.
- The pomegranate represents the misjudgements and poor decisions her daughter will have to make in order to learn life’s lessons and become an adult. It is a metaphor for temptations, mistakes and sins that we all succumb to when we are young and naive.
- The suburban world is depicted as very safe sheltering. Boland finds comfort in suburbia ‘The suburb has cars and cable television. The veiled stars are above ground’.
- Boland discusses the idea that she could shelter her daughter from the grief of poor decisions by remaining prominently in her life. She decides against this, knowing that only through experience, will her daughter truly learn life’s lessons.
Themes in ‘The Pomegranate’
- Womanhood: this poem acknowledges the complex relationship between mother and daughter. The poet explores how the decisions made during parenting can shape the woman her daughter will be in the future. The poet promotes the idea that we must live and learn.
- Suburban Life: Boland expresses how comfortable she now is in suburbia and how sheltering she finds it. Boland found life in suburbia quite difficult initially. Suburbia, in this poem, is depicted as a safe environment, sheltered by the world’s vices.
- Relationships: the changing nature of the mother – daughter relationship is explored in this poem. Boland concedes that the relationship between herself and her daughter will undergo change once her daughter matures. Boland discusses the fears she has in relation to this inevitability.
‘The Pomegranate’ – Exam Focus
In the prescribed poetry section of Paper 2, you are always asked to discuss the poet’s themes and the language they use. As long as you can reference how a particular language technique helped the poet to deliver various messages in relation to their themes, you will be able to answer any question you get on the day of the exam.
- Growing up
- Suburban life
- Accessible language used
- Striking imagery created
- Allusions (references external text)
- Rhetorical questions
It is important to acknowledge that Boland’s carefully chosen language techniques allow her to present difficult subject matter (themes) in a way that makes it accessible for her readers.
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