The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Labysheedy The Silken Bed)” is a translation by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill from her own Irish-language poem “Leaba Shíoda.” The title refers to a small town (also identified by the spelling Labasheeda) in County Clare on the north bank of the river Shannon. The poem uses the features of the landscape as a living entity in an address to a lover, creating a mood of deep feeling and pulsing sensuality that is striking in its openness and moving in its tenderness.

The first stanza begins as a declaration of devotion, the poet speaking directly from a core of passion, describing a place of intimacy:

I’d make a bed for youin Labysheedyin the tall grassunder the wrestling treeswhere your skinwould be silk upon silkin the darknesswhen the moths are coming down.

The physical presence of the person to whom the poem is addressed is emphasized by the focus on the body in the second stanza, which continues the tactile image of skin (metaphorically presented initially as silk), here compared to “milk being poured” so that its liquid qualities complement the sensuous textures of fine cloth. Then, in the latter part of the second stanza and the first half of the...

(The entire section is 454 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Emphasizing the importance of the Irish landscape in her work, Ní Dhomhnaill has recounted a family visit to the eastern end of the Dingle peninsula in Kerry, where her brother said “he had something special to show us.” The highlight of this “special” place was a bile, “a sacred tree, dear to the Celts. A fairy tree. A magic tree.” Ní Dhomhnaill celebrated the occasion in a poem that concludes with the query: “What will we do now without wood/ Now that the woods are laid low?”

Her personal response has been to place the features of a sacred landscape in many poems, and in “Labysheedy” the place where two lovers meet at twilight is both a figure for and a reflection of their emotions. The parenthetical title “The Silken Bed,” which she added to the place name when translating the Irish into English, sets the pattern for the extended metaphor comparing feeling and geographical feature that controls the imagery in the poem. Although it is not apparent in the English version, the Irish title “Leaba Shíoda” is both a place name and a description, since the word “shíoda” means “silk.” This additional meaning conveys the poet’s wish to see and shape the setting so that it becomes an expression of her desires, both an inviting physical prospect and an affirmation of her admiration for the person she addresses.

The descriptive imagery that brings the place of “the silken bed” into vivid life...

(The entire section is 467 words.)