Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Despite Ní Dhomhnaill’s statement that death is her master, it is clear that death in this case is a metaphor for the condition of women writers in Ireland. She claims that women have been largely excluded from the Irish literary cannon, so, on one level, the master she serves is Irish literary patriarchy. The females in Irish poetry were, in the words of Irish poet Eavan Boland, “fictive queens and national sibyls.” Rather than be allowed to write a literature of their own or to take on roles of substance, women were reduced to playing stereotypical roles such as earth mother, goddess, and hag. In the masculine poetry tradition, Ní Dhomhnaill says that “it has been a long and tedious struggle for us women writing in Irish to get even a precarious toehold in visibility.” Accordingly, the poem’s narrator wanders about the symbolic Irish countryside without a sense of direction or belonging; it is ironic that she is uncomfortable in a land most often described in feminine language. The theme of the writer in isolation or exile within her own country is common among Irish women poets. By exploring this theme in her poetry, Ní Dhomhnaill is reclaiming a past that was lost in traditional Irish patriarchy, and the poem itself is her poetic search for the voice she cannot seem to find in the final stanza.

While symbolizing the cultural and creative forces repressing her voice, the dark master also represents Ní Dhomhnaill’s personal muse or...

(The entire section is 510 words.)