Poet Eavan Boland recites new poem at UN event honoring Irish women’s suffrage

Evan Boland
Eavan Boland read her new poem, “Our Future Will Become the Past of Other Women,” at a United Nations event honoring women’s suffrage in Ireland. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

English professor and acclaimed poet EAVAN BOLAND recited a poem at the United Nations headquarters Wednesday, Dec. 5, in celebration of 100 years since the women of Ireland were granted suffrage.

Boland, the Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professor in Humanities and the Melvin and Bill Lane Director of the Creative Writing Program, read an excerpt from her new poem, “Our Future Will Become the Past of Other Women.” The work was commissioned by the Royal Irish Academy and Ireland’s permanent mission to the United Nations to mark the centenary. Irish women won the right to vote and cast their first ballots in the winter of 1918.

“Miss Boland, your words have inspired generations,” said María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, an Ecuadorian diplomat and the current president of the United Nations General Assembly for the 73rd Session, at the event. “Your elegant prose, infused with truths and ideals, have left a mark not only on Ireland but on all who have read it.”

After Boland read the excerpt from her poem, several UN ambassadors read sections of the poem in their native languages.

Boland, whose father, Frederick Boland, was the first Irish ambassador to the United Kingdom and the United Nations, said she was honored to celebrate the centenary at the UN event.

“It’s a poem that contains a huge amount of stakeholding of people in Ireland and a huge amount of their will that these people be honored, and that made it a privilege for me as a poet,” Boland said during the event.

An excerpt from the poem:

Show me your hand. I see our past,
Your palm roughened by heat, by frost.
By pulling a crop out of the earth
By lifting a cauldron off the hearth.
By stripping rushes dipped in fat
To make a wick make a rush light.
That was your world: your entry to
Our ancestry in our darkest century.
Ghost-sufferer, our ghost-sister
Remind us now again that history
Changes in one moment with one mind.
That it belongs to us, to all of us.
As we mark these hundred years
We will not leave you behind.

Boland said this part of the poem particularly commemorates the women who parented and raised the suffragettes.

“It’s about the women of the 19th century – the early hard part of it – who never voted, who never got the chance to become citizens of the ballot box but were the grandmothers and great-grandmothers of the women who did,” Boland sad.

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Boland has produced more than 10 volumes of poetry. Her latest work is the 2016 collection of poems about nationhood and identity, called A Woman Without a Country. Her other books include New Collected Poems (2008), Domestic Violence (2007) and An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967-87 (1996).