“Single Out the Devalued”: The Figure of the Nonhuman Animal in Eavan Boland’s Poetry


  • Maureen O’Connor University College Cork




Irish women’s writing, Irish poetry, Ecofeminism, New materialism, Animal studies


Boland has argued that “good nature poets are always subversive” and, though she did not identify as a nature poet, she compares her praxis to theirs: “their lexicon is the overlooked and the disregarded. . . . They single out the devalued and make a deep, metaphorical relation between it and some devalued parts of perception.” Boland’s engagement with the “natural” rarely provides a focus for analyses of her work, which predominantly attend to the poet’s own frequently identified preoccupations: her relationship to history, especially Irish history, and her role as an Irish woman writing within and against a largely male-dominated tradition. However, both of these issues of ambivalent and insecure identification and situatedness are implicitly connected to cultural constructions of the “natural.” This essay traces Boland’s negotiation with a legacy of Irish women’s silence by considering the appearance of the nonhuman animal in her verse, which evolves from traditional metaphor to a figure that challenges representational norms and expectations, thereby transvaluing the signifying power of silence and questioning the status of language itself, particularly as a uniquely human construct.

Author Biography

Maureen O’Connor, University College Cork

Maureen O’Connor  is college lecturer of the School of English and Digital Humanities at the University College Cork, Ireland. She received her BA in English and Creative Writing in Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, and her MA and PhD degrees in English from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. She has taught in a number of undergraduate programmes in southern California, including Loyola Marymount University, Scripps College, and Pitzer College. She held an IRCHSS Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Moore Institute in the National University of Ireland, Galway, where she has also lectured in the English department, the Women’s Studies MA programme as well as in the MA programmes in the Centre for Irish Studies and Culture and Colonialism. She has published widely in Irish Studies, especially women’s writing, and is the author of The Female and the Species: The Animal in Irish Women’s Writing (2010) and of Edna O’Brien and the Art of Fiction (2021) among many others.


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How to Cite

O’Connor, M. (2021). “Single Out the Devalued”: The Figure of the Nonhuman Animal in Eavan Boland’s Poetry. ABEI Journal, 23(2), 35-49. https://doi.org/10.37389/abei.v23i2.197751