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Patchwork Commentary

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Eavan Boland’s unique poem, Patchwork, allows the reader to be privy to the private thoughts of a persona, presumably the author herself, as she struggles to answer the question of fate or destiny. Throughout the poem, while quilting alone late at night, the speaker puzzles over the randomness of the universe, utilizing the simple quilt metaphor to inspire a final epiphany. Immediately revealing the central theme of the poem as well as alluding to the narrator’s apparent self-doubt, the first stanza is an imperative aspect of this piece. The speaker begins by stating that she has “been thinking at random on the universe, or rather, how nothing in the universe is random”. So commences her journey to solve the question: Is there a predetermined course of events, or do we hold the power to create our own futures?

The author has subtly presented the question to the reader in a sentence that makes use of chiasmus, thus capturing the reader’s attention by invoking personal thought and reflection. In addition, through the chiasmus, Boland skillfully manages to both characterize the narrator as a reflective, introverted individual, as well as foreshadow her uncertain opinion on the matter at hand. Such chiasmus’, oxymorons, and contrasting stanzas are seen repeatedly throughout the piece. They are essential in establishing a light, reflective tone and mood which, coupled with the use of the first-person perspective, enables the reader to form an unquestioning, intimate connection with the speaker. The insecurity of the narrator is further developed through the following transition phrase.

Forcefully, she drags herself back to reality and hastily reprimands herself for attempting to understand an idea as complex and multifaceted as the universe, saying “there’s nothing like presumption late at night”. While the word “presumption” suggests the narrator believes her own opinion to lack validity, the condescending tone and use of sarcasm also convey a feeling of shame. As well, this comment is essential, as it simultaneously establishes the setting of the poem. Clearly, the author intentionally selected nighttime for its remarkable ability to inspire deep thought, mystery, and a sense of solitude. In addition, Boland’s isolation of and use of brackets on the line serves to remind the reader that the narrator’s thoughts are spontaneous as opposed to pre-planned and organized, as is often the case in poetry.

This idea is continually reinforced throughout the piece through the simple diction, lack of a rhyming scheme, and irregular syntax and stanza structure. Ashamed of her presumptuous thoughts, the speaker forcefully ignores such philosophical musings, continuing on to describe her “sumptuous trash bag of colors” that she will use to create her patchwork quilt. Implying that she has not yet reached a resolute opinion on the pivotal theme of the poem regarding the randomness of the universe, this oxymoron confirms that the woman remains undecided. In addition, the word “sumptuous” used to describe the mixture of colors creates an image of luxuriousness; however, the “trash bag” belittles the magnificence of the fabrics. This could be interpreted as an illusion to the manner in which life often appears entirely hopeless and unpredictable at present but, upon reflection, patterns and connections emerge which rationalizes a seemingly irrational course of events.

Likewise, the brilliance of the colorful fabrics cannot be experienced in its entirety until the scattered “bits” are gloriously assembled into perfect “pieces”. In fact, the woman claims that her fabrics are “wait[ing]” to be “cut and stitched and patched”. The use of personification in this circumstance serves to justify fate or destiny by implying that the fabrics themselves have a purpose in this world, which is to become a piece in the finished product of the quilt. In the same way, humans are simply living a role predetermined by the universe. The concept of pre-destiny is further developed in the fourth stanza when the speaker begins to assemble the fabrics, stating that there is a “mechanical feel” on the handle of her sewing machine. The word “mechanical” suggests that the woman is acting mindlessly, almost as if guided by a higher power.

Fate determines that the quilt will be made, and so it will be. It guides the woman’s hands as her mind once again floats away from reality and begins to explore the metaphysical world. In addition, upon describing her “secondhand sewing machine”, the narrator further exposes her self-depreciating character. In the fifth stanza, the speaker makes inconsiderable progress in solving the crucial question regarding the randomness of the universe. As she realizes the overwhelming number of uncertainties in the universe, the woman chooses instead to concentrate on the task at hand, turning her “back…to the dark” or the unknowns. However, she is unable to resist the compelling temptation of mystery, and quickly attempts to contemplate the “stars and bits of stars and little bits of bits” which reside throughout the universe. While the “bits” in this statement signify randomness, the “stars” represent the unknown.

This symbolism, coupled with the use of repetition and alliteration, emphasize the woman’s sheer confusion on the matter at hand. The vast uncertainty of the universe has forced her to consider the possibility of a wholly random universe. The persona’s confusion is confirmed through her question: “is it craft or art?” In this circumstance, “craft” represents a universe in which fate is reality, and “art” represents a spontaneous universe. This question effectively grasps the reader’s attention, as they too being to puzzle over the alarming ambiguity of the universe. The sixth stanza both characterizes the speaker further, and expands on the quilt metaphor. Returning her attention to the assembly of the quilt, the character explains that she will work late into the night until it is completed. This confession reveals strong attributes of dedication and determination.

She confesses that she will not be moved until she finishes “logging triangles and diamonds…cutting and aligning…funding greens in pinks…and burgundies in whites”. Marking the beginning of the transformation of the “trash bag of colors” into a flawless quilt, this description of the process of creation bestows godlike qualities upon the persona. She holds the power to create and destroy. She has the capability to see beyond the bits to the potential pieces that will fit together. Even though the speaker’s tone emits enthusiasm at the prospect of creating a finished quilt, she does recognize that there is “no reason in it”. Or, it would appear so initially. However, perhaps she is aware of her power, and finds comfort in knowing that she is responsible for revealing the hidden beauty of the colorful fabrics. Through the eighth stanza, the importance of the quilt metaphor becomes most evident.

Finally, the persona has finished arranging her fabrics “sphere on square and seam to seam”. In this instance, the use of alliteration and imagery illustrates the perfect organization of the fabrics, while appealing to the reader’s visual imagination. In a “good light” the answer “start[s] to hit” her. Consider the third stanza in which the beauty of the fabrics was disguised by the repulsive “trash bag”. The “trash bag” alluded to the manner in which life appears spontaneous until reflected upon with an open mind. Thus, the “good light” represents the reflection stage, where patterns emerge, and the perfection of life becomes unmistakable. At last, this realization “hit[s]” the woman. The diction “hit” accurately describes the immense strength of the woman’s final epiphany, which is introduced through the use of the colon. Life is not spontaneous, nor is anything else in the universe.

Everything, including the “stars”, has a predetermined role that must be fulfilled. The fabrics are not “bits they are pieces and the pieces fit”. A resolute distinction is made between “bits” and “pieces” in this statement. While the “bits” represent a spontaneous, irregular universe, the “pieces” symbolize a universe in which nothing is random, and everything has a reason. Hence, the “pieces fit” because they were built to fit. Furthermore, the brevity and concision of the statement suggest confidence. Throughout the poem, the persona has contradicted, questioned, and even ridiculed her late-night “presumptions”. At last, in the eighth stanza, by utilizing the simple quilt metaphor, the persona is able to reach a concrete understanding.

Evidently, the quilt metaphor was pivotal in developing the central theme of the poem, regarding the crucial question of fate or destiny. In the beginning of the poem, as the persona begins to ponder the mysteries of the universe, she is left perplexed. However, the quilt discreetly leads her to the answer, enabling her to make sense of a complex, multifaceted idea. The title of the Eavan Boland’s poem, Patchwork, reflects this fundamental metaphor. Literally, the title refers to the process of quilting. Figuratively, the title may reflect the manner in which the persona was able to solve the ultimate problem by “patching” together various ideas. More likely, however, it is a metaphorical reference to the major theme of the poem. While the fabrics are individual events in our lives, “patchwork” describes how these events, no matter how evil or irrational, are integral aspects to the final product of the quilt.

Personally, I felt as if, through the quilt metaphor, the persona was searching to justify a seemingly unpredictable personal experience. By rationalizing destiny or fate, she finds comfort in the knowledge that “everything happens for a reason”. A simple yet powerful poem, Eavan Boland’s Patchwork immediately captures the reader’s attention. By establishing a spontaneous atmosphere –which, ironically, clashes with the theme of the piece – Boland creates a trusting relationship between the reader and the persona. In fact, the persona’s thoughts and opinions appear so genuine that the reader soon feels like an intruder on a very private and personal discussion. As the persona approaches her final epiphany regarding the supposed perfection and predictability of the universe, the reader also feels a sense of accomplishment. However, by engaging the reader in the process of discovery, Boland ensured that her audience was left pondering the anonymities of the universe long after finishing the poem.

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