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A Reading of 'Indoors' by Eavan Boland

I have always wanted a world that is cured of the outdoors.
A household without gods.
Walls arriving, entrances taking shape, verticals meeting
Horizontals: a where fetching a now.
(Eavan Boland: from ‘Indoors’) (1)
Doors are nothing in themselves. They are only important for where they lead or what they contain, what they release or what they imprison. When we stand before them, it’s rarely to contemplate them in themselves, but whether we’ll open them, close them or approach them. Doors don’t know who they are or where they stand. They are appendages to the house. They fill its gap. Am I being ridiculously pun-conscious when I see doors off their hinges, being inside the body, and then outside, flying through the air, erecting themselves at random? There are in-doors and out-doors, like in-laws and out-laws. This isn’t Eavan Boland’s way. She’s not a humourist.

Or is she? It’s an odd first line. To say you want a world cured of the outdoors is surely to say you don’t want the world? Does she hate air? But no, in this case, the outdoors is “great” in a godly sense. It gathers the gods and plants them, with all their trappings and history, in your household. The outdoors has designs on your house. And you, “I”, have always, forever, wanted a world cured of this, because this is “infection”, as we learn in stanza five.

The first line is a stance. I think of the poet as she often portrays herself, standing in her doorway during the child-minding years, watching the children playing, deciding that there was great value in staying with what was given. The light anapaestic energy of: “I have al(ways)” slows to a steady gallop of dactyls: “wanted a world that is cured of the [slam] outdoors”. House private.

Party happening, meetings. No building, just arrival of objects that place you. Geometry takes over. Position creates time, “…entrances taking shape” and, by implication, exits. The “where” fetches the “now”, ghostwise.
Find me a word for love. Make it damp.
Find her “a word for love”. Another typically dramatic stance. But love is a word. She wants us to “fetch” another one, conjure it, make it more than a word—a "damp", "sinuous companion". Now we learn that the “cure” is also preservation. The nameless “love” will “settle” and “salt”, and “say”, and affirm, that never could “we” be anything other than…. ourselves (“an island people”). Did we doubt it? Did we think we were connected by isthmus to anywhere? Who are “we”? Is it the Irish, or everyone? Are we disappointed that this is agape, not eros?

Here's antiphony: stanza three begins, “There is always….” [“I have always”]. Once upon an infinity, there is a place where Atlas rises as a god-plane (through stanza four), the horizon his wings. God as land and sky. Why male? Maybe because this is what she wants to cure, not specifically men, but a paternal order, periodically descending Jupiter-like to carry out a compulsive plunder: “the world straightening”; “the noise of discord”; “the hinterland… / its skin a map of wounds, its history a treatise of infections”.
But I was an indoor nature poet,
safe in my countryside
of handles and entrances, my pastoral of inland elements
She, on the other hand, was concerned with inner doors, safe in(country)side, on her own inland island, her nation, her “handles” (words, utensils, doorknobs), her ways further in. Yes, she, or her “where” has fetched or “lured-in”, the aftermath, the post-spontaneity product of “ocean, atmosphere”. And now a turn, a surprise. What was a sinuous companion, something elemental and infinite, is localised, in the final line, in the “not-dry feel of a child’s cardigan”. The feel is the thing. What is felt builds your house.

I’m inclined to connect this poem with Catullus ‘31’:
Paene insularum, Sirmio, Insularumque
ocelle, quascumque in liquentibus stagnis
marique vasto fert uterque neptunus,
quam te libenter quamque laetus inviso,
vix mi ipse credens Thyniam atque Bithynos
liquisse campos et videre te in tuto.
O quid solutis est beatius curis,
cum mens onus reponit, ac peregrino
labore fessi venimus larem ad nostrum,
desideratoque acquiescimus lecto?
Hoc est quod unum est pro laboribus tantis.
Salve, o venusta Sirmio, atque ero gaude
gaudente; vosque, o Lydiae lacus undae,
ridete quidquid est dome cachinnorum.


Sirmio, jewel of islands, jewel of peninsulas,
jewel of whatever is set in the bright waters
or the great sea, or either ocean,
with what joy, what pleasure I gaze at you,
scarcely believing myself free of Thynia
and the Bithynian fields, seeing you in safety.
O what freedom from care is more joyful
than when the mind lays down its burden,
and weary, back home from foreign toil,
we rest in the bed we longed for?
This one moment’s worth all the labour.
Hail, O lovely Sirmio, and rejoice as I rejoice,
and you, O lake of Lydian waters, laugh
with whatever of laughter lives here.

(Translated by A. S. Kline) (2)
Did she have this somewhere in mind? Sirmio is an “almost island” (“Paene insularum”). It’s a peninsula in Lake Garda, and was Catullus’s home, to which he was returning after a diplomatic visit to Thynia and Bithynia, in modern Turkey. ‘Indoors’ speaks of “my pastoral of inland elements”. This “lured-in” aftermath is figurative of the finger of a peninsula, perhaps. I might be stretching it, but Eavan did study Latin and had great affection for it. The packed simplicity of her style may owe something to the particular pacing and order of the Latin sentence.

Catullus writes passionately: “O quid solutis est beatius curis, / cum mens onus reponit….” The “curis” is dative plural of “cura”, care, trouble. To return home is the most joyful freedom from cares, from the requirements of an imposed structure—it is a “cure”. The “lake of Lydian waves” in line 13 compares the poet’s beloved Lake Garda with the gold-rich waters of the river Pactolus in Lydia. Laughter, peace, a home, is as valuable as gold. Like the speaker in ‘Indoors’, Catullus is in the aftermath of ocean and the great outdoors, but is still in a “damp” environment, one that is his inalienable own. He uses the phrase “larem ad nostrum”, “to our home”, but “lares” also means household gods. In this case, the home embodies the god.

‘Indoors’ is also a poem of returning, but there’s no change of place. The long first line of Stanza four sends the god morphing from bird to ’plane (“headlights”), but the ’plane doesn’t quite leave, as if it’s making and retaining a map of the “hinterland”. The god both creates and incorporates the landscape, closing it around him. In the next stanza, the speaker is also an elevated eye, so that she sees from above and below at once. The effect is surreal and circular, the place of observation shifting out of place and into time (“always”, “now”, “never”, “day becoming night”, “history”, “treatise”, “aftermath”). The arc of the poem traces a canopy over what is; the sky is the limit, but brought to the level of a roof, everything miniaturised to its elements, and contained. The pith. The essence. Simply.

(1) Domestic Violence, Carcanet Press, 2007
(2) Catullus: The Poems

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