Watching the episodes of "Who do you think you are?" has reminded me of the fact that many of us have ancestors who lie in unmarked graves. We may have some minimal record of them, or none at all. These family members have in a sense fallen outside of history, at least recorded history as we know it. We may know the location of some of these graves, but some have been forgotten, left to be found in some distant time by some other explorer.
"Outside History", a poem by Eavan Boland, reminds me of these erasures, and how important it is for us to remember those who have gone before us, of whom we can no longer find a trace.
There are outsiders, always. These stars—
these iron inklings of an Irish January,
whose light happened
thousands of years before
our pain did: they are, they have always been
They keep their distance. Under them remains
a place where you found
you were human, and
a landscape in which you know you are mortal.
And a time to choose between them.
I have chosen:
Out of myth into history I move to be
part of that ordeal
whose darkness is
only now reaching me from those fields,
those rivers, those roads clotted as
firmaments with the dead.
How slowly they die
as we kneel beside them, whisper in their ear.
And we are too late. We are always too late.
"Outside History" Copyright ©Eavan Boland from Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990, 1990
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