by Eavan Boland
When the Peep-O-Day Boys were laying fires down in
the hayricks and seed-barns of a darkening Ireland,
the art of portrait-painting reached its height
across the water.
The fire caught.
The flames cracked and the light showed up the scaffold,
and the wind carried staves of a ballad:
The flesh-smell of hatred.
And she climbed the stairs. Nameless composite.
Anonymous beauty-bait for the painter.
Rustling gun-coloured silks.
To set a seal on Augustan London.
And sat down.
The easel waits for her
and the age is ready to resemble her and
the small breeze cannot touch that powdered hair.
But I smell fire.
From Antrim to the Boyne the sky is reddening as
the painter tints alizerine crimson with a mite of yellow
mixed once with white and finds out
how difficult it is to make the skin
blush outside the skin,
The flames have crossed the sea.
They are at the lintel. At the door.
At the canvas,
At her mouth.
And the curve and pout
of supple dancing and the couplet rhyming
and the pomander scenting death-rooms and
the cabinetmaker setting his veneers
in honest wood–they are kindling for the flames.
And the dictates of reason and the blended sensibility
of tact and proportion–yes
the eighteenth century ends here
as her hem scorches and the satin
decoration catches fire. She is burning down.
As a house might. As a candle will.
She is ash and tallow. It is over.