Written originally in Irish, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s “My Dark Master” is a short poem of ten four-line stanzas that loosely follow an abab rhyme scheme. Ní Dhomhnaill, a leading voice among Ireland’s women writers, was born in Lancashire, England, but grew up in the Dingle Gaeltacht in County Kerry (an area of Ireland that still speaks Irish as its primary language) and in Nenagh, County Tipperary. She has been the recipient of numerous poetry awards, including the Irish American Foundation Award (1988) and the American Ireland Fund Literature Prize (1991).
As the title suggests, “My Dark Master” focuses on the relationship between a dominant figure, the unnamed dark master, and the subordinate speaker. The poem opens with the speaker striking a bargain with “death” to spend time with him. The identity of the dark master is not made clear at first. Instead, the initial stanzas detail the agreement they strike, as the speaker spits in her palm before shaking the dark master’s hand (a traditional symbol of a solemn pact) and signs a contract to become “indentured on the spot.” In the third stanza, readers learn that the speaker was only nineteen years old at the time, suggesting that her youthfulness contributed to her naiveté about the relationship, which she called “a stroke of luck.” However, the optimism underlying Ní Dhomhnaill’s initial tone shifts to a more ominous note as she describes falling “into his...
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