“Poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s demanding subject matter and formidable style prove challenging.” Discuss this statement supporting your answer with reference to text.
With a demanding subject matter, coupled by a uniquely formidable style, as constants in her poetry, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has carried me through and to many challenges of which have often left the textbook and remained caught up in my own thoughts long past their reading. While I find it primarily her demanding subject matter which poses the greatest challenge to me, I also I believe Ní Chuilleanáin’s undeniable formidable style to reinforce and expose such demanding subject matter.
“Street”, I find, deals with a subject matter of the ignorance of preconceptions and stereo-typing, habits that seep deep into our subconscious. Initially, I find the opening description of the young woman as “the butcher’s daughter” to ring out in tones of innocence; I myself have already and automatically passed judgement on this woman, awarding her unearned trust, a reaction I believe Ní Chuilleanáin to purposely provoke. Coupled with the title “Street”, the definite article attached to “the butcher’s daughter” infers a knowing safety to what can be imagined as a small town in which a woman can be easily identified by her father’s trade with ease. Additionally, it aids in placing an innocence upon the woman: she is fragile, weak, shadowed in the protection of her father, a feared professional – dismembering animals. However, I find my initial impression of the young woman to be proven fake as the poem continues:
“He stared as the dark shining drops on the paving stones.
Here, Ní Chuilleanáin’s formidable style takes hold in her dark and sinister imagery, proving to further challenge my preconception of the assumed innocent “butcher’s daughter”. The innocence is unravelled as the confusion of the adjectives “dark and “shining” sit in paradox, describing the drops of blood trailed by the “butcher’s daughter”. How can anything be dark and shine simultaneously? Perhaps it is the darkness of said blood that appeals, shines out, to “the butcher’s daughter”. The placement of the verb “stared” created the sense of fascination upon the elusive pronoun “He”. The opening line pleads “He fell in love with the butcher’s daughter”, however I now find myself retracting my belief in this; I wonder if it is more the danger and mystery that appeals to him rather than “the butcher’s daughter” reveals her mysterious and perhaps sinister traits. It appears that she is no longer the victim of a stalking, too meek to even notice, but the one in power, a fraud. I now, feeling cheated, begin to fear for the still unidentified “He”.
“Each thread marked with the red crescent
Her bare heels left, fading to faintest at the top.”
As the poem ends in a continuing, perhaps enhanced, formidable style, I find myself lost at the closing full stop; searching for more words to ease the cruel mystery. I feel the woman to be now completely exposed as the sinister character she truly is, a far cry from the sheltered “butcher’s daughter”. As my imagination acts as enemy, traveling to conclusions of murder. I also find myself revaluating my own easiness to believing in preconceptions. I, like the elusive “He”, can be too quick to judge and trust too much or reserve trust. The poem challenges me with its demanding subject matter and formidable style to be more sceptical of those around me.
I believe “Fireman’s Lift” to also possess a demanding subject matter – the transience of life, both coming into it and leaving it. With once again a formidable style, Ní Chuilleanáin explores those inevitable life moments through the use of a split screen as he reminisces back to viewing s Correggio fresco with her mother. The poem is one of which demands to fall upon an audience’s ear with its formidable use of aural imagery: from the joy of the opening line’s “celestial choir”, the celebration of new life, to the drudgery of the verb “heaving£, the heaviness dying creates. The poem poses a particular challenge to me, as it draws out long filed-away memories of my own grandmother’s dying days, thus making is rather poignant.
“Teams of angelic arms were heaving
Supporting, crowding her.”
There is a strong, formidable nature to onomatopoeic verb choice thus leading to a tedious and exhausted tone. “Heaving”, selected by the poet to portray the movement of the “angelic arms”, immediately stand in a demanding high relief against the light and soft assonance of “angelic arms”. The verb haunts me as it challenges my unwillingness to sad memories of my grandmother’s passing: carrying her full heavy frailness and how futile my efforts seemed against the strength of her nurses’ “angelic arms”. The following verbs, “Supporting” and “crowding” proceed in a similar onomatopoeic and formidable style, however they do not result in having the same impact upon me; while I find the verb “Supporting” to lay ore softly upon my ear, “crowding” strikes on chords of an anxious claustrophobia of inevitable death and the invasion of one’s own dignity that so often occurs in one’s dying days. While I find the poem to be brought to life through formidable onomatopoeic verbs, I believe the closing line to be the most formidable use of aural language, even in the absence of onomatopoeia:
“Under her weight as she came to the edge of the cloud.”
Ultimately this line strikes me because of its light, cheerful yet calm rhythm. I hear it on three segments of three words each: “Under her weight” – “as she came” – “to the edge” – “of the cloud”, even though no punctuation prompts me to do so. The effect is quite endearing. The line is calmly unfolded and happily lacks the effort of the previous twenty-eight lines. It is the first inclination of the naturally occurring, there is no force in its reading. As each of the twelve words roll off the tongue in an airy lightness, there is a welcomed respite from the drudgery of the previous lines. Fundamentally, this prohibits the poem from ending in abruptness, but rather allows it to taper off. As a result, I am challenged in looking at the connection between birth and death; how in a way being born can be viewed in the same light as dying: transitioning from one world to another. Oddly, the image comforts me.
I find yet another demanding subject matter in “Fire and Engines”: the fragility, inevitability and insignificance of one’s own life. The demanding subject matter once again seeps through Ní Chuilleanáin’s formidable style as she placed stark, bleak, unsettling imagery into the heart of this poem:
“And know how light your death is”
Facing the prospect of one’s own death is. I believe the greatest hear known to mankind. Ní Chuilleanáin chooses this demanding subject matter to challenge her audience into evaluating the importance of their own lives once death has struck. I find it to be the most challenging of all the poet’s subject matters. The adjective “light” saddens me: it represents the insignificance our lives have in a world of over six billion; how we cannot even be forgotten when there is nothing to forget. The poem continues with such formidable imagery as Ní Chuilleanáin writes of the pain we cause to those who mourn us:
“You will be scattered like wreckage,
The pieces everyone a different shape
Will spin and lodge in the hearts
Of all who love you.”
Inevitable pain to an inevitable death is all that can remain. I find it a great challenge to imagine being the cause of such pain as the verbs “spin” and “lodge” appear to do so. While I do find an element of comfort in remaining in the hearts of those who love me, I do not wish to be “scattered like wreckage”, only causing pain in my wake as my memory “spins and lodges” in their hearts.
Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem “Following”, while dealing with the demanding subject matter of death which seems to be a constant in her poetry, I find it also looks at the father-daughter relationship and challenges me, as a reader, to question how I would face the loss of my own father. Fathers are protectors, they lead the way in safety, they are a little girl’s idol. I find Ní Chuilleanáin to portray this power and subsequent respect in her choice of the title “Following”: immediately I am placed behind this father character, he is my guide, my only worry is in following his path; thus my trust is placed within him, just like my own father. I believe it is in this attachment that the subject matter has such a demand over me, leading a deeper empathy and a greater challenge as the poem continues and death stands as an obstacle in the act of following.
“The ground is forested with gesturing trunks.”
This image, although with an undeniable formidable style, has an innate beauty. It paints a vivid image of claustrophobia and darkness in a subtle manner, yet is strong in impact. The trees close in upon her in the darkness without the guide of her father. No longer a follower, she is lost among the emotion of “half chocked heads in the water of cuttings.” With such, the claustrophobia is intensified, the inability to prolong facing a loved one’s death. Something we are all challenged with at some point in our lives. There is a calmness to the final stanza, perhaps the aftermath of the funeral when relatives have departed. I believe that it is a memory Ní Chuilleanáin writes about in this stanza, one of which she shares with her father:
“She comes to where he is seated”
Both imagery and language are softer in comparison to the previous formidable imagery and language of “Mouths that roar like the noise of the fair.” The pace of the poem’s tone slows with the stillness of the verb “seated” and order is restored in a “a library where the light is clean”. Such peaceful and safe tones are quickly disintegrated upon the unsettlement of the closing formidable preposition “apart”. The challenge of facing the loss of a loved one is renewed. The unforgettable loss at the ending of a memory.
Ní Chuilleanáin has presented me with many challenges by reading her poetry. She is not a poet to shy away from complex and demanding subject matters, often with the unsettlement of death running as a constant underlying theme. Ní Chuilleanáin endeavours to portray and exploit her demanding subject matter with a remarkably formidable style by using an array of poetic techniques from stark, bleak imagery to exhausting and loud aural imagery. The end result causes me to find myself constantly challenging; preconceptions (“Street”), the stepping back and accepting death “Fireman’s Lift”), coming to terms with the inevitability and insignificance of my own, like most people’s, death (“Death and Engines”) and similarly the loosing of one’s father