Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Criticism - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement (review date 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Acts and Monuments, in The Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 1973, p. 864.

[In the following excerpt, the reviewer compares Acts and Monuments to Pearse Hutchinson's Watching the Morning Grow and comments that although Ní Chuilleanáin's poems are skillfully crafted, they at times lack flair.]

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's first collection [Acts and Monuments] is a more obviously unified piece of work than Mr Hutchinson's, the product of a less diffuse, more grave and self-possessed sensibility. A metaphorical fascination with coastlines, sea-voyages and the land threads several of the poems together; and although the book is more restricted in tonal range than Watching the Morning Grow, the vision which inspires its admirably well-sculptured pieces is on the whole more complex and imaginative. Some genuinely original flair seems lacking: there are passages which hover on the brink of real metaphorical sparkle and don't quite make it, never swerving from accomplished craftsmanship but not quite catalysed into really striking effects. But the poems are thoroughly worked and show a deft sense of rhythm, not least in the volume's impressive centrepiece “A Midwinter Prayer”. …

Robert Henigan (review date 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Contemporary Women Poets in Ireland,” in Concerning Poetry, Vol. 18, No. 1-2, 1985, pp. 103-13.

[In the following excerpt, Henigan discusses Ní Chuilleanáin's technique and her ability to write about the positive and negative aspects of life.]

Like Líadan and Eileen O'Leary, Eileán Ní Chuilleanáin is from Cork. She is the daughter of a professor of Irish and the prolific novelist Eilis Dillon. Although her poems are highly regarded in Ireland, American critics have been, at best, condescending. They complain that her poems are not distinctively Irish, that her syntax is elliptical to the point of obscurity, that her images are extreme or unsupported...

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Clair Wills (review date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Nearer by Keeping Still,” in The Times Literary Supplement, December 25, 1987, p. 1435.

[In the following review, Wills compliments Ní Chuilleanáin's technique and notes her use of the themes of movement and stillness.]

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's poetry has been well received in her native Ireland, and The Second Voyage, comprising poems from her three volumes published there (it has been edited by Peter Fallon and is published in Dublin by Fallon's Gallery Books), is a welcome selection of her work for English readers. It displays a striking consistency of theme and technique—the dominant motif throughout being the contrast between movement...

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Jonathan Allison (review date 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Poetry from the Irish,” in Irish Literary Supplement, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring, 1991, p. 14.

[In the following excerpt, Allison praises Ní Chuilleanáin's poetry for its grace and simplicity.]

In [Ciaran] Carson's world, language is deceptive and meaning is unstable, but in Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's poetry language is serenely confident and comfortable in its relationship to the world and to the fictions it brings into being. The language of The Magdalene Sermon is simple, uncluttered and limpid, and Ní Chuilleanáin's poems are graceful and marvellously unfussy; she seems incapable of writing a superfluous line. She doesn't use figurative language very much, but when she does it is apt and fine: “Our tall pine where cones clung like mussels” (“The Italian Kitchen”). Usually her poems encapsulate a telling scene from a larger untold narrative, and aptly many of the poems have titles like those of paintings: “River, With Boats,” “St Mary Magdalene Preaching at Marseilles,” “Fallen Tree in a Churchyard,” In “Looking at the Fall,” a mother and child gaze at a waterfall which is portrayed in almost hypnotic terms, and the poem closes with a bleak moment of visionary intensity, as they see “the bones piled in the mountainside. And the cross wind cutting at the roots, / Whistling in the dry bed of the stream.” Ní Chuilleanáin guides her poems again and again into the most assured and even startling closures, as in “Balloon,” where the balloon floating around the child's room becomes transformed magically as it lands, and “A big strange fish gleams, filling the child's bed,” and in “River, With Boats,” where a woman's idyllic riverside view is spoiled by a ship “Swaying and tugging and flapping like wind. And the faces of the mariners, Crowd at the glass like fishes.”…

Elizabeth Oness (review date 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Glittering in the Wilderness,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 9, No. 4, Summer, 1994, p. 26-7, 96.

[In the following excerpt Oness commends Ní Chuilleanáin's ability to write flowing poetry and comments on the recurring themes found in The Second Voyage.]

Ní Chuilleanáin's The Magdalene Sermon was shortlisted for the 1990 Irish Times/Aer Lingus Poetry Book Prize Committee. The Second Voyage contains poems from Acts and Monuments (1966) and Site of Ambush (1975). The beauty of Ní Chuilleanáin's poetry does not lie in dramatic revelation, but in the cadence of her sentences, which are both flowing and simple. Throughout her work, there is a wonderful sense of how a line of poetry works. “St. Mary Magdalene Preaching at Marseilles” opens:

Now at the end of her life she is all hair—
A cataract flowing and freezing—and a voice
Breaking loose from the loose red hair,
The secret shroud of her skin:
A voice glittering in the wilderness.
She preaches in the city, she wanders
Late in the evening through the shaded squares.

Images of water abound in these books, and Odysseus serves as the subject for several poems in The Second Voyage. The title poem is more than a retelling of myth; it is a demonstration of the smallness of human effort and the intractability of nature. Odysseus, of course, wants to return home: “But the profound / Unfenced valleys of the ocean still held him; / He had only the oar to make them keep their distance; / The sea was still frying under the ship's side.” These poems are marked by a sense of human struggle with the elements and the larger world: “His face grew damp with tears that tasted / Like his own sweat or the insults of the sea.”…

Peter Sirr (essay date 1995)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “How Things Begin to Happen: Notes on Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Medbh McGuckian,” in Southern Review, Vol. 31, No. 3, Summer, 1995, pp. 450-67.

[In the following excerpt, Sirr examines Ní Chuilleanáin's poetry and analyzes her ability to blend different styles of poetry and various images to create imaginative poems.]

Given the full range of what has been possible in verse in our century, Irish poetry is essentially conservative. It tends to avoid formal experiment, jealously hoards its clarities, its logic, its trove of paraphrasable content. Think, for instance, of the effective marginalisation of Thomas Kinsella, who has stoically pushed the...

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Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (essay date 1995)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Acts and Monuments of an Unelected Nation: The Cailleach Writes about the Renaissance,” in Southern Review, Vol. 31, No. 3, Summer, 1995, pp. 570-80.

[In the following essay, Ní Chuilleanáin discusses the writers and historical events that have influenced her writing.]

I work in an institution founded by Queen Elizabeth I, though not much about its appearance now suggests that she and her colonial advisers, and not the cool philosophers and raging politicians of the eighteenth century, were the originators. Because my work as teacher and researcher is mostly connected with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it frequently occurs to me to...

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Paul Scott Stanfield (review date 1995)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Magdalene Sermon, in Prairie Schooner, Vol. 69, Summer, 1995, pp. 148-56.

[In the following excerpt, Stanfield examines Ní Chuilleanáin's use of mobility and stasis in her poetry and describes how this inertia makes Ní Chuilleanáin's poems powerful.]

Irish poets stand a good chance to get a fair hearing in the United States, not only when compared to poets of other foreign countries, but even when compared to our own. Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, and Derek Mahon receive notice in such venues as the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books, which are rather miserly in the column inches they accord books...

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Steven Matthews (review date 1995)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “One Free Foot Kicking,” in The Times Literary Supplement, July 7, 1995, p. 13.

[In the following excerpt, Matthews favorably reviews The Brazen Serpent, stating that Ní Chuilleanáin's lyrics blend factual history and magical poetry.]

The relations between poetry and history, between the personal space of the lyric and the painful facts of public event, have inevitably formed an exacerbating focus of attention in Irish writing of the past two-and-a-half decades. In these recent books from the Gallery Press, two major poets take up the strains of those relations in striking and suggestive ways which extend the range of possibilities offered within...

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Kevin Ray With Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (interview date 1996)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin,” in Eire Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1-2, Spring, 1996, pp. 62-73.

[In the following interview, Ray and Ní Chuilleanáin discuss the themes prevalent in Ní Chuilleanáin's poetry and talk about her other work and current projects.]

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was born in Cork, in 1946, the daughter of Irish scholar Cormac O Cuilleanáin and novelist Eilis Dillon. She was educated at the University of Cork and at Oxford, and has lectured in medieval and Renaissance literature at Trinity College, Dublin, since 1966. She is married to the poet MacDara Woods and has a son, Niall. Together with...

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Dillon Johnston (essay date 1997)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Our Bodies' Eyes and Writing Hands:’ Secrecy and Sensuality in Ní Chuilleanáin's Baroque Art,” in Gender and Sexuality in Modern Ireland, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997, pp. 187-211.

[In the following essay, Johnston examines Ní Chuilleanáin's poetry in comparison to Eavan Bolard's poetry, in view of religious overtones and in a study of sexuality.]

In her autobiographical treatise, “The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time,” Eavan Boland remarks that “Irish women poets had gone from being the objects of the Irish poem to being its authors in a relatively short space of time.”1 That final spatializing locution...

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John Kerrigan (essay date 1998)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Hidden Ireland: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Munster Poetry,” in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 4, Winter, 1998, pp. 76-100.

[In the following essay, Kerrigan studies how the history of Ireland's Munster region, and past writers from this area, have affected Ní Chuilleanáin's writing.]

During the 1970s, as the Troubles took hold in Northern Ireland, the work of Heaney and his contemporaries was projected by London publishers to an international audience. Here was a poetry authenticated by crisis, which addressed the conditions of violence in ways which the media could understand. In the Republic, where readerships were small and the machinery of...

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