The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454

“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.

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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 third, other attributes (hair, lips) are depicted with luscious, extravagant comparisons to the natural surroundings. In the third stanza, without pausing, the descriptive passage shifts with no change in tone to a flowing narrative of a couple walking on the banks of the river Shannon, “with honeyed breezes blowing.”

The poet’s adoration is exemplified in the latter part of the third stanza and the start of the fourth by a worshipful image of “fuchsias bowing down to you/ one by one” in a display of singular devotion. Then the poet returns to a direct, first-person perspective, continuing the traditional catalog of tasks that the lover would perform for the beloved:

I would pick a pair of flowersas pendant earringsto adorn youlike a bride in shining clothes.

The speaker then reaffirms the sentiment of the first line by repeating it with the evocative exclamation “O” preceding and the variant “in the twilight hour/ with evening falling slow” closing a quatrain with the first tight rhyme of the poem. The last stanza, another quatrain which extends and then concludes the thought of the poem’s close, summarizes the spirit of the lyric; the poet anticipates the pleasure of entwined limbs wrestling “while the moths are coming down.” The body consciousness of the last lines joins the couple to the physical presence of what has been described as a supportive natural setting, linking the desire of the pair to the forces that seem to govern the flow of growth and change in the world around them.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

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,...

(The entire section contains 921 words.)

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