Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Aug 29, 2008 12:29:42 GMT 2
Post by moira on Aug 29, 2008 12:29:42 GMT 2
EILÉAN NÍ CHUILLEANÁIN’S “LUCINA SCHYNNING IN SILENCE OF THE NIGHT…”
by Joyce Nower
(The following is one of four revised excerpts from a three-part article on Irish poetry published in my column “Intersections” in The Alsop Review.
The four excerpts include poems by Eavan Boland, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Nuala NÍ Dhomhnaill, and Medbh McGuckian, all four born in the Forties and Fifties of the last century. Further poems by these poets may be found in Contemporary Irish Poetry, Ed. Anthony Bradley, University of California Press, 1988; and Modern Irish Poetry, Ed. Patrick Crotty, The Blackstaff Press Limited, Northern Ireland, 2001.)
Ireland is a small country with a spectacularly large literary tradition; and it is the only place in Europe which did not have a so-called “Dark Age.” Ireland, in fact, in the 7th and 8th centuries, was the lantern of learning for Europe because, not having been conquered by the Romans, it was not subject to the degeneration that occurred when the Roman Empire fell apart. Indeed, Irish monasteries, having preserved the classical and Christian learning accrued over the centuries, sent missionaries into all parts of Europe.
But Ireland has had a “Dark Age” of another kind: first, the unconscionable exploitation by England; and secondly, its own deeply divided house: Catholics versus Protestants, Unionists versus Separatists, North versus South, Catholic Free Staters versus Catholic Republicans. It is that first “Dark Age” that
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin‘s hauntingly beautiful and strange poem “Lucina Schynning in Silence of the Night” depicts.
England owned Ireland from about the 12th century on. The poem takes place in a ruin somewhere in Ireland, after Cromwell (who is remembered as a butcher who murdered countless Irish men, women, and children) has devastated the land in 1649. Not simply a meditation on an historical event, the poet achieves immediacy via a dramatic monologue that recreates the whisperings of desolation in the aftermath of Cromwell’s march through Ireland. The speaker, surrounded by animal life and the open sky, becomes an extension of animate and inanimate nature.
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (1942- ) was educated at University College, Cork, and Oxford. She teaches at Trinity College, and was the recipient of the Patrick Kavanagh Award (1973). She and her husband Macdara Woods are co-founders and co-editors of Cyphers, a literary magazine, which has an online presence at . Her books include Acts and Monuments (1972), Site of Ambush (1975), The Second Voyage (1977, 1986), The Rose Geranium (1981) The Magdalene Sermon (1989) and The Brazen Serpent (1994).
Lucina Schynning in Silence of the Night…
by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Moon shining in silence of the night
The heaven being all full of stars
I was reading my book in a ruin
By a sour candle, without roast meat or music
Strong drink or a shield from the air
Blowing in the crazed window, and I felt
Moonlight on my head, clear after three days’ rain.
I washed in cold water; it was orange, channeled down
Dipped between cresses.
The bats flew though my room where I slept safely;
Sheep stared at me when I woke.
Behind me the waves of darkness lay, the plague
Of mice, plague of beetles
Crawling out of the spines of books,
Plague shadowing pale faces with clay
The disease of the moon gone astray.
In the desert I relaxed, amazed
As the mosaic beasts on the chapel floor
When Cromwell had departed and they saw
The sky growing though the hole in the roof.
Sheepdogs embraced me; the grasshopper
Returned with a lark and bee.
I looked down between hedges of high thorn and saw
The hare, absorbed, sitting still
In the middle of the track; I heard
Again the chirp of the stream running.