Amber - by Eavan Boland

It never mattered that there was once a vast grieving:

trees on their hillsides, in their groves, weeping—
a plastic gold dropping

through seasons and centuries to the ground—
until now.

On this fine September afternoon from which you are absent
I am holding, as if my hand could store it,
an ornament of amber

you once gave me.

Reason says this:
The dead cannot see the living.
The living will never see the dead again.

The clear air we need to find each other in is
gone forever, yet

this resin once
collected seeds, leaves and even small feathers as it fell
and fell

which now in a sunny atmosphere seem as alive as
they ever were

as though the past could be present and memory itself
a Baltic honey—

a chafing at the edges of the seen, a showing off of just how much
can be kept safe

inside a flawed translucence.

Eavan Boland

This remains one of my favorite of Boland's poems. Perhaps there is an urgency to explain grieving that I believe in. Perhaps it is that I am a lover of amber.

Is this an ekphrastic poem? It takes its inspiration from an object of the natural world and transforms that object into something beyond itself. I think of amber as a work of art created by water and earth's debris. At the moment I am preparing for a class on ekphrastic poetry and so examining what I mean when I use this term. More poems to come...


  1. Wonderful - I have those first three stanzas stuck on repeat in my head.

    1. Robert, so glad you like it. Her early collected, Outside History, is one I think would be a great place to start. It contains the poems I find most compelling of her work. Enjoy!


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