Eilean NíChuilleanain’s creative use of language creates a fantastical air of mysteryand tension, leaving the reader with more questions than answers about thepersonal events that inspired her work. Her clever use of symbolism and motifscan express some profound ideas.NíChuilleanain’s poem On Lacking the KillerInstinct combines a multitude of memories, both of her father’s illness andpassing, and of tales of her father running from the black-and-tans. Sherecalls leaving the hospital as her father was dying, unable to process thereality of the situation. She fled to the hills where she sees a hare, peacefullysitting in a field. This memory is evoked through the image she saw in thenewspaper of two greyhounds running after a similar hare. The sight of the harethat “shoots off to the left”, filled with a “glad power” as it evades the “absurdlygross” hounds behind.
The poet isreminded of her father who, as a young man in post-rising Ireland in thenineteen twenties, was being wrongfully pursued by “a lorry-load of soldiers”.The hare is creatively used to symbolise her father throughout the poem,whether being rightfully or wrongfully hunted, or at peace surrounded bynature. The evasive hare in the newspaper photograph fooled the bloodthirstyhounds just as her father tricked the zealous soldiers by hiding in a nearbyhouse and masquerading as a member of the family.The poet isinspired by the image of the hare, how ‘she’ is at peace and accepting ofnature and its ways. She regrets her decision to run away from her fears, fromhiding from the reality of her fathers impending death, yet the next morningshe went back to the city, “washed in brown bog water”, cleansed by the naturalsights and realisations she had while struggling to cope. The constant changeof perspective, from peaceful hare in the field,to fleeing hare in the newspaper, to her father in the nineteen twenties, tothe poet herself hiding from reality, creates a great sense of mystery. The readeris left wondering which images correspond with each other from each individualmemory or story.
The memories are powerful and though lacking in detaileddescription, are extremely easy to visualise. While this poem has aconsiderably lower sense of mystery, it is more than made up for in her otherpoetry.NíChuilleanain’s poem entitled The Bend inthe Road reminds us of how time is fleeting, how both illness and our time in thislife are short-lived.COME BACK AND FINISH THIS POEM Possibly themost mysterious of all her poems on this course, is Street.
Everything about the poem, from it’s title to it’s contentsanswer no questions, instead raising even more that will never be answered. The poem follows an unnamed man with uncertain intentions, only referred to as “he”,who is in love with “the butcher’s daughter”.This womanis elusive, being described as wearing “white trousers” and “dangling a knifeon a ring at her belt”. This phrase alone brings many different images to mind.The dangling knife, which later is hinted as being bloodied, suggests that she isdangerous, a woman of her trade, perhaps. The colour white alone holds many connotations.
White clothing near somethingthat could stain, a bloodied knife for example, suggests that she is daring andwilling to take risks. White itself can often imply purity, beauty, peace, kindness,a soft and gentle nature, but paired with the knife, it suggests sterility, an absenceof information, a blank page. She is free of all information. The colour whiteis this woman’s obscurity. She is nothing more than a title. Nameless,faceless, with no personality traits or features.
She is “The Butcher’sDaughter”.The sense ofdanger and mystery continues as the man decides to follow this woman into “the slantinglane at the back of the shambles.” We are not told anything more about the woman,simply that “a door stood half-open”. We do not know if the woman is aware ofthe man’s advances or his presence. We know nothing about either of theirintentions. Why would the butcher’s daughter leave the door open? Are the man’sintentions innocent or sinister?The scenedescribed is again a confusing one.
Behind this unclosed door is a flight ofstairs. The woman’s shoes are at the bottom of the stairs, yet some blood hadclung to her feet, “her bare heels” having left a “red crescent” as she had ascended.This poem’s purpose, other than to draw the reader into a dead-end, is unclear,and the poem’s message is even more so.The red crescentsfade away as they reach the top of the stairs, the woman is unattainable. She vanishesinto thin air, obscured by the slightest of obstacles, hiding in plain sight.The woman symbolises mystery and the unknown. While it seems dangerous to pursueand to study, humanity, here represented by the man, are unable to resist thecharm of discovery and knowledge of what has always been withheld from us.