I first read Eavan Boland's poem in the UK last fall. I don't remember where I was - I wish I did - probably curled up with a mug of tea at one of the study centers we stayed at, heavy Irish poetry anthology in my lap, near a window. Anyway, I do remember that it gave me shivers.
In the poem, Boland's stars are outside history. They're untouchable and untouched, their light reaching us from hundreds and hundreds of years ago, existing outside our sphere of reality. Boland mourns the stars - their inability to reach anything, touch anything, to step from myth into reality. They are always cold and distant.
As Boland mourns the stars, she mourns her own distance from history, using an image of hordes of starving Irish, unsave-able and doomed during the Famine times. Like the stars, she's too late. Her poem ends with the refrain, 'and we are too late / we are always too late.' Too late to save the victims of history and too late to save the victims of the Troubles - of hatred, violence, the cycle of unforgetting - in modern day Ireland.
(It reminds me of a hauntingly similar quote in a Seattle Times article about the Sudan famine - an aid worker warning that any aid is already too late for thousands.)
I read this poem a couple times this summer, always in an attempt, I think, to reach back through history to my own time in Ireland and the learning and stretching that happened there. Too late, like the star's light, of course, but I also found other meaning as I read and reread. Could I be like those stars for Nepal? Always existing outside its history, its recent political turbulence, its poverty, I'm barely able to see it from so far away. And now I'm stepping from outside history into the darkness (spiritual, political, human) of an ordeal (or a country, a history, a people), that's just now reaching me. Briefly, with less than enough knowledge of culture and language and history, to do what I'm not sure, but here's the twist: with Jesus Christ, it's never too late, never too late. Which changes the entire poem.