Asked how she would like to be remembered in literary history, Eavan Boland replied: "I would rather be in the unidentified chapter ... Because it's more likely to be the human one." And she mentioned "a terrible chapter" in Thoreau's book Cape Cod .
"In it he finds an Irish shipwreck on the beach. And he finds them putting them into coffins from one of the famine ships from Galway, Brid and her sister, and her sister's children ... that is the imaginative area I feel for: not for the individual, romantic intelligence."
When Eavan Boland died last Monday aged 75, beyond the terrible shock and sadness, I remembered her as a friend and, more importantly, a selfless, extraordinarily generous friend to poets and poetry. And above all, I remembered her humanity. She had no ego. Instead, she brought to every situation a focused, rigorous and curious energy. In her poetry and prose, her high intelligence shone.
Growing up in Dublin, London, New York, as the daughter of the diplomat Frederick Boland and artist Frances Kelly, her background was privileged, sophisticated, cosmopolitan. And her Irishness was central.
In An Irish Childhood in England: 1951, she, "a freckled six-year-old", was told by the teacher in a London convent "when I produced 'I amn't' in the classroom, 'You're not in Ireland now'".
Brilliant, academic, never, never self-important, she was interested in everyone and equally at home in the most prestigious universities as in a writing workshop in an underfunded working-class community centre.
She read in Wesley College twice and she asked as many questions of her young audience as they did of her, the 13-year-olds especially. She challenged and treated them with sympathetic respect both for what they had to say and for their potential.
Other memories include her hand delivering to school, the next day, her reply to an invitation to write a foreword to Lifelines 3; her showing me, in her Dundrum home, the black lace fan her mother gave her that prompted one of her finest, most beautiful poems; her coming to our house on two different occasions to meet poets Lauris Edmond and Fleur Adcock; her immediately saying yes to launching the Windharp anthology at the National Library. The warmth and immediacy of her speech that evening made the occasion very special.
And when we spent six months in California, she invited us to Stanford where she taught and insisted on buying us a book about the university in the campus bookshop. I also remember an hour-long phone conversation with her about the Thom Gunn poetry course I audited at Berkeley.
One letter, from 1997, captures her delight in being alive, her joy in her family - married to the writer Kevin Casey, she had two daughters, Sarah and Eavan Frances - her work: "It's wonderful to be home. But Stanford was exciting and endearing as always ... and the family came out and had a marvellous spring visit out there, right in the middle of the magnolia and bougainvillea. Other than finding a lizard in my cottage there was nothing adverse! We also managed to make a senior appointment in fiction which involved a blizzard of paper, but was well worth it." More recently, she delighted in and adored her grandchildren.
Now a household name, in 2001 the "new", post-Soundings Leaving Cert poetry course included 10 of her poems.
Chosen by committee, she wrote to me about their choice: "It sounds so prejudiced to say I was relieved, but I was. I suppose I had a slight unease that a selection of 'domestic' poems might create a damaging, but entirely subliminal distinction, between 'women's' poetry and 'Irish' poetry, subtly suggesting - however unintentionally - that one could not quite be the other. But the selection - and I can see this - is completely free of that assumption. I'm glad of that. It seems most constructive."
In those Leaving Cert poems students encounter suburban Dublin, sectarian violence, a past historical and personal, a celebration of married love, the discovery that love has "the feather and muscle of wings", a mother's clear-eyed, deeply felt understanding of her relationship with her teenage daughter.
The latest New Yorker contains a new Eavan Boland poem. Eviction remembers her grandmother in Drogheda, "in court for rent arrears". In it she says: "I have always resisted history" because history does not note a woman leaving a courtroom in tears.
Again, Boland is on the side of the forgotten individual. "You can accept the history at face value and write out of that, I don't want to. I feel a great need to somehow get behind that history as a woman and as a poet to the great source out of which the history comes."
Reading Eviction and hearing her read it on the New Yorker website is doubly poignant. Her body is now still. But her voice lives on.
In her poem Time and Violence she speaks of "the melancholy/ of growing older" and in Energies from Night Feed, her 1982 collection, Eavan Boland wrote: "This is my time: the twilight closing in." Dusk, twilight occurs in many of the poems, that sad, beautiful time before darkness.
But here, in the closing lines of The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me we hear Eavan Boland's celebratory, life-affirming, generous lyric voice. She gives us bright sunshine and birdsong. A gift to Leaving Cert students, a gift to all of us.
The blackbird on this first sultry morning,
in summer, finding buds, worms, fruit,
feels the heat. Suddenly she puts out her wing -
the whole, full, flirtatious span of it.