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Women and Money

August 19, 2022

Over the course of her long career, Eavan Boland emerged as one of the foremost female voices in Irish literature.

Boland is very conscious about her place in history, as a woman, and a poet, and both a poet and woman.

In her book Object Lessons : the life of the woman and the poet in our Time, she wrote 

“Occasionally I would feel an older and less temporary connection to the moment. Then I would feel all the sweet, unliterate melancholy of women who must have stood as I did, throughout continents and centuries, feeling the timelessness of that particular instant and the cruel time beneath its surface. They must have measured their children, as I did, against the seasons and looked at the hedges and rowan trees, their height and the colour of their berries, as an index of the coming loss.” – Eavan Boland.

When I happened upon her poem …

Making MoneyMaking Money’ traces the journey of the mill workers from their humble mill cottages one dawn, or rather ‘the ugly first hour after dawn’, at the end of summer.

At the turn of the century, the paper produced there was of
                such high quality that it was exported for use as bank-note
                paper.                                  —“Dundrum and its Environs”


They made money—
                                    maybe not the way
you think it should be done
but they did it anyway.
At the end of summer
the rains came and braided
the river Slang as it ran down and down
the Dublin mountains and into faster water
and stiller air as if a storm was coming in.
And the mill wheel turned so the mill
could make paper and the paper money.
And the cottage doors opened and the women
came out in the ugly first hour
after dawn and began

                                    to cook the rags they put
hemp waste, cotton lint, linen, flax and fishnets
from boxes delivered every day on
the rag wagon on a rolling boil. And the steam rose
up from the open coils where a shoal slipped through
in an April dawn. And in the backwash they added
alkaline and caustic and soda ash and suddenly
they were making money.

   A hundred years ago
this is the way they came to the plum-brown
headlong weir and the sedge drowned in it
and their faces about to be as they looked down
once quickly on
their way to the mill, to the toil
of sifting and beating and settling and fraying
the weighed-out fibers. And they see how easily
the hemp has forgotten the Irish Sea at
neap tide and how smooth the weave is now in
their hands. And they do not and they never will

see the small boundaries all this will buy
or the poisoned kingdom with its waterways
and splintered locks or the peacocks who will walk
this paper up and down in the windless gardens
of a history no one can stop happening now.
Not the crimson and indigo features
of the prince who will stare out from
the surfaces they have made on
the ruin of a Europe
he cannot see from the surface
of a wealth he cannot keep

                                           if you can keep
your composure in the face of this final proof that
the past is not made out of time, out of memory,
out of irony but is also
a crime we cannot admit and will not atone
it will be dawn again in the rainy autumn of the year.
The air will be a skinful of water,
the distance between storms,
again. The wagon of rags will arrive.
The foreman will buy it. The boxes will be lowered to the path
the women are walking up as they always did,
as they always will now.
Facing the paradox. Learning to die of it.

It was her full name –Eavan Boland – that first captured my attention. The word sounds are so familiar to me. Her surname is spelled exactly like region in my own country, where I lived out my early childhood.

The Boland is often referred to as the Cape Winelands as it is the primary region where most of the Western Cape’s wines are produced. This fertile area boasts a variety of properties for sale that are ideal for families and house-hunters seeking a relaxing alternative to busy city living. 

While there are no defined boundaries, the Boland lies around the main towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl, (where I grew up in my early childhood years) Somerset West and Franschhoek. Her poem “Making Money” reminded me of Women Working on Farms along the Winelands Route. For many years they never had access to the outside world, remaining on the farms even over weekends. I will never forget that one Saturday when we bussed them into town to do their very first grocery shopping. For most of the women seeing the centre of town was like experiencing a visit to the ocean for the very first time.

Eavan Boland helped redefine the literary canon to include women’s voices and those on the margins.

Navigating between work in America and a full life in Ireland, Eavan lived out that emigrant dream and made it real, made it her world. Her poems are intimately connected to the dailiness of her own life, to a sense of significances and exfoliations in the ordinary events in her patch of space and time. Equally, she writes poems of extraordinary power and complexity about the history of Ireland, about the Famine, the Troubles (the three-decade conflict between nationalists and unionists), about the acts of violence suffered by her people over time.

Eavan Aisling Boland was an Irish poet, author, and professor. She was a professor at Stanford University, where she had taught from 1996. Her work deals with the Irish national identity, and the role of women in Irish history. – Wikipedia

Born: 24 September 1944, Dublin, Ireland

Died: 27 April 2020, Dublin, Ireland

In the end

everything that burdened and distinguished me

will be lost in this:

I was a voice.

Eavan Boland

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5 Comments
  1. Thank you for presenting this remarkable poet. I had not heard of her work. Truly a staggering account of how the paper for money was made…an eye opening poignancy grabbed my mind as the poem described with vivid candor how caustic the process and its “costs.”
    Excellent sharing.

    • Thank you for reading Poet. I appreciate your reflection.
      Boland poignantly portrays the grim business conducted there a century earlier: Factory jobs producing the fiber-rich paper for British bank notes required women to toil in the noxious air issuing from caustic chemicals they boiled in vats full of lint, flax, and rags.
      Making the UK great. Heart-wrenching what it cost for countries to develop and industrialise.
      And so I’m impressed by her steady pen as she excavates the leafy suburb of Dublin.
      Captivating as it transported me to the leafy suburbs of Stellenbosch Paarl, Franschhoek in my own country and the presence of its underbelly.

      • Eloquently said!. The price of modernization was and remains quite high. Thank you for sharing the memories of your home. Thank you.

      • Yes, that is the perfect phrase
        “The price of Modernization”
        Just the proper title for a poetic thesis.
        Thank you for reading those memories.
        You are most welcome.

      • Thank you🙏

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