Oliver Goldsmith's poem "The Deserted Village," published in 1770, mourned the eclipse of traditional rural life by urban commodity society ("Thus fares the land by luxury betray'd'). It sold in London like hotcakes, running through six editions in six months.
Eavan Boland rewrites "The Deserted Village" while describing her experience of rereading it. She refers to Goldsmith's poem as "Augustan double talk." It's a rich phrase suggesting the Augustan verse form, the rhymed couplets, of "The Deserted Village." It suggests prevarication too: under the cover of the fictional English village he calls "Auburn," Goldsmith was writing about Lissoy, the Irish village he had grown up in and left behind. Boland is impatient with Goldsmith for failing to speak directly of his true subject, his Irish home, "the village he is taking so much care to erase." But she also sympathizes with him. That "double talk" suggests a double consciousness, a simultaneous identification with and alienation from an Ireland that is always changing. This complex feeling, which stirs beneath Goldsmith's poem, comes to the fore in Boland's.
Boland, who directs the creative writing program at Stanford, is the author of 10 books of poetry and a prose work of autobiographical and cultural reflections, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time. Ireland is the place of origin she has repeatedly left and come back to, starting in her adolescence when, after living in...