Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
When you and I were first in love we drove
to the borders of Connacht
and entered a wood there.
Look down you said: this was once a famine road.
- This stanza begins by bringing a "you" into the poem. That "you" is the speaker's beloved. The "you" is also the poem's addressee—the person to whom the poem's speaker is talking. Aside from us, you know. Because we readers are always important, too. (But don't let that go to your heads, okay?)
- So just picture these two lovebirds strolling around a forest in Connacht (a province in western Ireland). Do they come across a rose bush? A beautiful waterfall? Something else lovely and romantic? Nope, they run smack dab into a famine road.
- What's a famine road, you ask? Well, the short story is that in the 1840s, Ireland was hit with potato blight, which rotted the main food source of most Irish people. Millions of Irish people went hungry because there were no more edible potatoes, and many starved to death or left Ireland to avoid starving to death.
- Here's the kicker: instead of offering the famished Irish people free food, the British demanded that they build famine roads—completely pointless roads to nowhere—so that they could receive food as "payment." Ouch.
- Hundreds of thousands of people died while building these pointless famine roads, and, as the speaker tells us in this poem, they're still visible in the Irish countryside today. For more details on the Irish Potato Famine, check out what we've got to say in "In a Nutshell."
- Let's get back to the poem. So, the speaker and her lover stumble across a famine road on their would-be lovely adventure. BAM: in the middle of their love, there is tragedy. The nation's sad history is materialized in the landscape, and it's inescapable. Love is interrupted by historical, political, and cultural devastation. We're gonna go ahead and guess that these two don't do much giggling and making googly eyes at each other in the forests of Connacht.
- And let's pay attention to the sounds of the words before we move on. After all, musicality can be as important to a poem's meaning as its content. Do you hear the slant rhymes all over these lines, in words like "love," "drove," and "road"? There are no perfect rhymes, but these close vowel sounds are all over the poem. We think they create an echo-y feel. You never know quite where an imperfect rhyme will pop up in this poem… just like you never know quite when the past will crop up in your present. Or the Irish Potato Famine will rear its ugly head in the middle of your fun forest romp.