Eavan Boland reads

The Wife’s Lament

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I sing this poem full of grief.
                             Full of sorrow about my life.
Ready to say the cruel state
                             I have endured, early and late,
And never more I will tell
                             Than now—now that exile
Has fallen to me with all its pain.
                              My lord had gone, had fled away
Over the sea. The break of day
                             Found me grieving for a prince
Who had left his people. Then at once
                             I set out on my journey,
Little more than a refugee,
                             Lacking a retinue and friends,
With needy means and needy ends.
                             They plotted together, his kith and kin.
They met in secret, they made a plan
                             To keep us as far apart, away
From each other, night and day
                             As ever they could while making sure
I would feel anguish and desire.
                             My lord and master made his will
Plain to me: He said, be still:
                             Stay right here, in this place.
And here I am—penniless, friendless,
                             Lacking him, my heart’s companion
And sad indeed because our union
                             Suited me so well, so well
And for so long. And yet the real
                             State of his heart, the actual weakness
Of his mind, the true darkness
                             Of murderous sin was hidden away.
And yet I well remember the day,
                             Our singular joy on this earth                         
When we two vowed that only death
                             Could separate us. Now I see
Love itself has deserted me:
                             Love that was so true, so trusted
Is now as if it never existed.
                             Wherever I go, far or near,
Enmity springs from what is dear.
                             I was commanded to this grove
Under an oak tree to this cave—
                             An ancient cave—and I am filled
With longing here where hedges, wild
                             With briars, valleys, rollings,
Steep hills make a joyless dwelling    
                             Often here, the fact of his leaving
Seizes my heart. There are lovers living
                             On this earth who keep their beds
While I am walking in the woods
                             Through these caves alone at dawn.
Here I sit. Here I mourn,
                             Through the summer hours, all my woes,
My exiled state, I can’t compose
                             My careworn heart nor ease the strife
Of that desire which is my life.
                             Let a young man be sober, tough
And sunny withal however weighed
                             Down his soul, however sad.
And if it happens joy is his choice
                             May his self be its only source.
My lostlord, my lover-felon—
                             Let him be cast from his land alone
By an icy cliff in a cold storm.
                             Let his own mind bedevil him
With weariness as the water flows
                             Far below his makeshift house.
Let my weary friend beside the sea
                             Suffer his cruel anxiety
Let him be reminded of this place
                             Of another dwelling: all its grace,
And all the affliction, all the cost
                             Of longing for a love that’s lost.

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