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Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

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Niamh Egan

on 18 March 2015

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Transcript of Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Facts.
1. Her family was bilingual

2. She grew up in a very republican household.

3. Her mother and sister both played classical instruments

4. Her father was active in th e Irish Civil War.

5. She spent much of her young life on the UCC campus as her mother ran the nursery.

6. Her three favorite aunts were nuns.
Influences & her work
Eilean's mother heavily influenced her work, due to her mother being a children's writer this may have influenced the abundance of folklore in her writings. Religious themes are also seen quite a lot, probably because of her admiration of her religious aunts.

Most popular works
Accomplishments
She received a Master of Arts degree in 1964 and a bachelor of literature in Oxford.

She is the co-founder of a literary magazine known as "Cyphers" in 1975.

She has won many poetry prizes for her works including the Lawrence O' Shannessy prize for poetry and the griffin prize for her poem titled "The Sun Fish". That same poem gained her a nomination for the T.S Elliot award as well.

She is a talented translator and is able to translate Irish, Italian, French and Romanian. She has also published several books about translation.
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was Born in Cork in 1942. Her mother was an author of children's books and her father was a professor of Irish literature in University College Cork.

Because of the literature heavy environment she grew up in she gained a passion for the literary world, especially poetry
Birth and early life of Eiléan
"The Sun Fish"
Eilean's Award winning poem

"When the farmers burned the furze away
where the had heedlessly lived till then.
The hermits all made for the sea shore.
chose each a far safe hole beneath rocks,
now more than ever before.

On sundays I watch the hermits coming out of their holes.
Into the light their cliff as full as a hive.
They crowd together on warm shoulders of rock.
Where the sun has been shining their joints crackle.

I have been at the crossroads now.
all the time without leaving.
since the afternoon of shrove Teusday.

The long bridge
Streched between two counties
so they could never agree.
How it should be kept standing at all.
The sun fish part 2
Through a cloudy floor at the place they left behind,
The deep strait that the ferries face at sunset,
And the shadowy patches, where deeper into the night
A few wrecked boats fearfully make their way.
Like rubbed plans their faces look up out of the stone.
Behind their heads are the maps they will make before dawn
Of the way back to their new lodgings,
And where the landlord keeps the spare key, and the butter.
Questing she roamed
After the windows she loved, and again they showed
The back rooms of bakeries, the clean engine-rooms and all
The floodlit open yards where a van idled by a wall, A wall as long as life, as long as work.
The blighted
Shuttered doors in the wall are too many to scan—
As many as the horses in the royal stable, as the lighted
Candles in the grand procession? Who can explain?
Why the wasps are asleep in the dark in their numbered holes
And the lights shine all night in the hospital corridors?



Poem meaning & Conclusion
Eilean Ni Chuilleanain
is known for her use of beguiling
imagery, for example: "On sundays I watch the hermits coming out of their holes.
Into the light their cliff as full as a hive".
Her poetry describes her veiwing many intruiguing sights, most laden with mystery. Her poetry leaves much to the reader to speculate, as opposed to being a "happy" or "sad" poem.

I believe this is why she is so popular among both the female and Irish writing and poetry communities.
The Bend in the Road is a poem about memory and nostalgia for the past. It recounts a tale of a child getting sick on a journey with the whole family and how the location, that ‘bend in the road’, becomes synonymous with that event.
The poet realizes that our surroundings are filled with the memories of our loved ones even if they have passed away.
The Bend in the Road


A child feels sick on a trip to the lake and the family pull the car over to the side of the road, with the windows rolled down, to let the child recover. The poet remembers a ‘tree like a cat’s tail’ and ‘the shadow of a house’.

Every time the family passed the location since they have remembered how the child got ‘sick one day on the way to the lake’. The child has grown up and is now taller than the poet and her husband and the surroundings at the bend in the road have also changed. The tree has grown and the house has become ‘quite covered’ with ‘green creeper’.


Stanza by Stanza:
The poet reflects on all that has happened in the past 12 years and on the people they have lost: ‘the faces never long absent from thought’. These people were taken away by disease: ‘we saw them wrapped and sealed by sickness’. They were so weak that even sleep seemed a burden to them: ‘the piled weight of sleep / We knew they could not carry too long’.

To the poet this bend in the road is a place of memory for all these people and all her memories, not just the one in which her child got sick: ‘This is the place of their presence: in the tree, in the air.’
Ms McCann
Figurative language:

The poet uses similes in many of her images.
She describes the tree as ‘like a cat’s tail’ and the spirits of the dead
being ‘like one cumulus cloud/ In a perfect sky.’

Atmosphere:
There is a serene and peaceful atmosphere in this poem.
This ‘bend in the road’ is described as ‘silent’ and seems a place
where little happens.

Alliteration:

‘A tall tree, like a cat’s tail’. And ‘sealed by sickness’.

Assonance:
‘Piled high, wrapped lightly, like…’
Language
In Brief:
Street is a short poem about love and attraction designed to leave the reader guessing. A man falls ‘in love with the butcher’s daughter’ as he sees her walk down the street and on one occasion he follows her home.
STREET
Stanza by Stanza:

A woman, who engages in the work of a butcher, traditionally seen as a masculine activity, makes for an intriguing central character in this poem. The man who watches her seems fascinated with the knife on her belt and the ‘dark shining drops’ of blood, which drip onto the ground from it.

One day he follows her and gets to see her in a different setting, the domestic sphere at home. He sees the spotless stairs ‘brushed and clean’ and her shoes placed neatly on the bottom step. Then he notices the marks her bare feet have made on the stairs as they ascended: ‘the red crescent/ Her bare heels left, fading to faintest at the top.’

For the reader the story ends here and we are left wondering as to what happened next if anything. It seems to be deliberately ambiguous.
Imagery

The poem consists of a series of dynamic images creating a cinematic effect. The reader follows the action of the girl on her walk being watched and is left to think about these ambiguous images afterwards.

The poet uses contrasting colour to powerful effect with the image of dark red blood beside the pristine white of the butcher’s trousers:

When he saw her passing by in her white trousers
Dangling a knife on a ring at her belt,
He stared at the dark shining drops on the paving-stones.
In Brief

Niall Woods is Ní Chuilleanáin’s son and Xenya Ostrovskaia was the woman he married in September 2009. Ní Chuilleanáin wrote the poem to commemorate their wedding and give her blessing to their marriage.

In the poem she references many different folk tales both Irish and Russian and also the Book of Ruth from the Bible. These stories all deal with people starting out on adventurous journeys and, to varying degrees, feature ‘happily ever after’ endings. The poet’s message is that one has to take risks and persevere to earn the good things in life, especially love.
to Niall Woods and Xenya Ostrovskaia, married in Dublin on 9 September 2009
Stanza by Stanza
The poem opens with a direct address to the couple about to be wed. She says that when they ‘both see the same star/ Pitching its tent on the point of the steeple’ it will be time for their journey together to begin.

The folk tale references

•The Red Ettin
– a tale about three sons setting out on journeys – each one is given the choice to take a full loaf and their mother’s curse or half a loaf and their mother’s blessing. Only the youngest son makes the latter choice and he succeeds in marrying a beautiful princess.
•Sleeping Beauty
– the familiar folktale of a cursed princess rescued by a courageous prince.
•The Firebird
– a Russian folktale about an emperor whose golden apples are being stolen at night-time. The emperor commands his sons to find out who the thief is and only the youngest son succeeds. He sets out on journey to catch the culprit, the firebird, and eventually succeeds and marries a beautiful princess.
•The King of Ireland’s Son and the Enchanter’s Daughter
– the story of a prince who loses a wager to an enchanter and has to complete the tasks set by him. Eventually he succeeds marries the enchanter’s daughter!

The Book of Ruth:

The final story she references is the Book of Ruth from the Bible. Ruth was a Moabite who travelled far away from home to marry an Israelite. After her husband died Ruth remained loyal to her mother-in-law Naomi saying ‘whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’ She eventual married again largely as a result of her loyalty to Naomi and lives happily ever after.

All of these references encourage courage in the face being far away from home. Niall and Xenya’s marriage is seen as the start of a great adventure and she tells them not to be afraid to ‘leave behind the places’ that they know. The stories from their respective cultures will keep them connected to home: ‘All that you leave behind you will find once more.’
Lucina Schynning in the Silence of the Night
Title:
The unusual title of this poem comes from the first line of The Birth of Antichrist by William Dunbar a 15th century Scottish poet. His poem uses the setting of a dream to depict a gruesome battle between good and evil. Ní Chuilleanáin may have recalled the line when she saw the moon shining ‘in the silence of the night’; Lucina comes from the Latin for ‘light’ and is very similar to the Latin term for the moon: ‘luna’.

In Brief:
This poem recounts a night spent sleeping in a ruined old chapel without the comforts of modern civilisation. The poet details her ‘up close’ encounter with nature and the memories and thoughts the experience brings up for her.
Stanza by Stanza

The poem starts with an image of a clear starry sky with the poet underneath reading a book by candlelight. She describes herself as being ‘without roast meat or music/
Strong drink or a shield from the air’, a description which conjures up images of a medieval feasting hall.

Despite having to wash in cold bog water and having bats for company she ‘slept safely’, feeling secure and relaxed in this natural environment.

In the third stanza the mood alters:

Behind me the waves of darkness lay, the plague

Of mice, plague of beetles

Crawling out of the spines of books,

The word ‘plague’, which is repeated three times, hints at times of mass death and destruction. The ‘waves of darkness’ ‘behind’ her seem to refer to terrible events from the past. She mentions Cromwell hinting at the violence and devastation his forces brought to Ireland in the 17th century.

Plague shadowing pale faces with clay

The disease of the moon gone astray.


‘Pale faces’ shadowed ‘with clay’ might refer to mass burials of plague victims and ‘the disease of the moon gone astray’ hints at the old term for mental illness, lunacy, which comes from the Latin for moon.

The atmosphere of gloom does not last long in the poem, however, as she asserts: ‘In the desert I relaxed, amazed’. She is in awe of the beauty of nature which, for her, is a very positive and heartening presence.

Sheepdogs embraced me; the grasshopper

Returned with lark and bee.

There a sense of growth and renewal, of nature overcoming the challenges of the past. She spots a hare ‘absorbed, sitting still/ In the middle of the track’, is a line which echoes a troubled period in her life.

She concludes the poem with the uplifting line: ‘I heard/ Again the chirp in the stream running’ implying that life is in continuous motion and constantly renews itself despite humanity’s moments of war and destruction.
“A poem communicates without being understood.” - T.S. Eliot


This poem demonstrates the process of memory very clearly. One thought calls forth a memory and then sparks off another and another. The dramatic photo of a hare being chased by greyhounds in the newspaper reminds the poet of an encounter with a hare on the road near the hospital where her father was dying.

She then thinks of her father as a young man, running from the enemy in the Irish War of Independence and his ‘clever’/crazy idea to chance an ‘open kitchen door’, a risk that saved his life.
On Lacking the Killer Instinct
Title:
A ‘Killer instinct’ is ‘a ruthless determination to succeed or win’. Both the hare and the poet’s father exhibit this instinct as they escape their hunters whereas the dogs and soldiers, who let their prey go, do not. The poet too, in fleeing her father’s deathbed, seemed to lack the courage to endure her own fear at such a moment.
Stanza by Stanza:

The poem opens with the image of a hare ‘sitting still’ in the middle of the path on which the poet was walking, a memory from a few years previously. She had ‘fled’ the hospital in which her father was dying obviously struggling with the ordeal of seeing him waste away.

She was reminded of this memory by a striking photograph of hare coursing in the morning newspaper:

Two greyhounds tumbling over, absurdly gross,
While the hare shoots off to the left, her bright eye
Full not only of speed and fear
But surely in the moment a glad power,

She sees fear in the eye of the hare but also the thrill of survival, ‘glad power’ in her ability to outrun the ‘stupid dogs’. This sparks the memory of her nineteen year old father being chased by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence in 1921 and how, like the hare, he gave them the slip:

And he was clever, he saw a house
And risked an open kitchen door
About the incident he commented ‘never/Such gladness’ as ‘he came out/ Into a blissful dawn’ the following morning. Both the hare and her father felt excitement and joy in surviving a near death experience.

The poet thinks that neither should ever ‘have been coursed’ as it should not have been necessary for a boy to fight for his country’s independence at such a young age and hare coursing is now regarded as a barbaric activity. She concludes the poem by admitting she ‘should not have run away’ from her father’s deathbed and remembers that she subsequently ‘went back to the city’ to face up to her own challenges.
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