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Leaving Cert English Poetry FAQ

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Leaving Cert Sample Essay #625Lab

Ní Chuilleanáin’s demanding subject matter and formidable style can prove challenging.”

Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin on your course.

This is an essay from a current Leaving Cert student. It's published under our #625Lab section that reviews the strengths and weaknesses of students' essays. You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€) 

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin is regarded by numerous people as one of the most important contemporary Irish women poets. Ní Chuilleanáin is commemorated (not the best choice of words. How about celebrated?) for being mysterious and complex. Her personal stories give way to more general mysterious patterns of meaning. (What is a pattern of meaning?) Accounts, memories from the past and loved ones who have passed away are kept alive through her poetry. This is evident in both the poems “Fireman’s Lift” and “The Bend In The Road”. Ní Chuilleanáin’s subject matter varies from social commentary and reflection of religious issues to quiet subjective (?) poems about human nature. She is knowledgeable in history and a strong impression of connection among past and present characteristics are is seen in her work which leads to her drawing interesting parallels between historical events and modern situations. (This is a classic: a reasonable statement expressed in an impossibly long sentence that destroys all sense it with punctuation errors. Avoid long sentences!) Ní Chuilleanáin ’s poetry is technically accomplished, graceful and sometimes mysterious, filled with speculations and questions for which there are no definite answers. What impression does this intro create? It paints a picture of a student who studied the poet, who knows a lot and has reflected on it but is really unclear and unable to synthesise her knowledge in a way that's palatable to the examiner. This is a tragic situation as the return for this author's hard work is very poor. What is her main problem? She's not clear. There is no structure to this vague blurb. I am still not sure what she is going to talk about. The good news is that this author is ripe to go from a middling grade to a very high one within a day of bootcamp style practice. The rest of this essay was ok, but here is another one that contains more learning points:

I completely agree with the above statement. (Nice and clear, but very mechanical. Avoid being so blunt unless you literally can't think of anything else to say.) Throughout her poetry, Ní Chuilleanáin addresses many very important subject matters, many of which are not easy to discuss. Her unique and formidable style, while on first reading may prove difficult to comprehend, adds an extra layer of meaning and depth to her poetry. For my answer, I will use “On Lacking the Killer Instinct”, “Deaths and Engines” “Street” and “Translations”. (Look at this for an alternative H1 introduction for the same essay title.)

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Leaving Cert Sample Essa
Image credit: Eve Bennett

Ní Chuilleanáin addresses many challenging subject matters in her poetry, but one that sticks out to me as a particularly difficult subject matter is death. (This is a great opening sentence for the paragraph: it is clear what isn't going to be about. Why does this sentence need the comma before but? It is connecting two independent clauses.) This theme is found in many of her poems but is addressed somewhat differently in each poem. (The author left out the comma here, but that's correct. Why? Because the predicate is addressed still relates to this theme, i.e. it's not a separate clause.) Her poem “Deaths and Engines” is quite interesting as in it she looks upon death, in my opinion, under a somewhat cold and clinical light. She uses phrases such as the “cold of metal wings” and imagery of snow and burnt out aeroplanes to symbolise the coldness and finality of death. She speaks about death as inevitable and something we are helpless to. This is quite a contrast to her poem “On Lacking the Killer Instinct” where even though she is faced with her father’s impending death, she is more optimistic and speaks of escaping death rather than its inevitability: “My father running from lorry of soldiers, in 1921, 19 years old, never such gladness, he said, cornering the narrow road between high hedges in summer dusk”. This contrast is challenging for the reader as it leaves them torn between two viewpoints: death can be cheated for now or death is inevitable and we have no control over it. 

Ní Chuilleanáin’s style is most unusual as she often leaves us with more questions after reading a poem then we had before reading it. “Street” is the perfect example of this. Ní Chuilleanáin has constructed "Street" in such a way that we don’t know if it’s about a man in love with a local girl or a perverted stalker, watching an innocent girl’s every move, unbeknown to her. Ní Chuilleanáin starts off the first stanza with “he fell in love with the butcher’s daughter” but ends of the same stanza with “he stared at the dark shining drops on the paving stones”. Even her use of assonance in that last line slows down the reader when reading the poem aloud, possibly for emphasis or to suggest something sinister. She also uses the imagery of red blood in the poem to conjure up a somewhat ominous picture in the mind of the reader “each tread marked with a red crescent”. (That's an attempt to illustrate Ní Chuilleanáin’s formidable style, but it's not very strong. Assonance isn't all that confusing. Blood is ominous, but why is that challenging? He could have talked about how it's ominous, but it is also an inviting track of bread crumbs leading him behind a half-open door. There are so many examples in that poem he could have used. For example, the colour white in "When he saw her passing by in her white trousers": a colour of innocence, underlining young love, but also it's just the colour of her uniform that she wears to butcher things - not quite as romantic. "Dangling a knife on a ring at her belt": dangling as in teasing, but also dangling a knife as in dangerous. The poem is full of mixed messages, as the author rightly pointed out earlier, but he didn't illustrate it well. Moral of the story is that you can't just take a poetic technique and claim it to be oh so complicated, you need to explain the complexity. The author does a significantly better job in the next paragraph.)

In my opinion “Translations” is a quintessential example of how her formidable style and demanding subject matter can prove challenging. In it she laments the deaths of the innocent women in Magdalen laundries whilst also showcasing the strength and power of women. (Would have been a good place for a quotation.)  It’s the type of poem you have to read over and over again to get a true understanding of what the poet is trying to articulate. The subject matter here is obviously a difficult one. The cruel and inhumane treatment of these so-called promiscuous women is most definitely “A cloud over {our} time”. Ní Chuilleanáin’s technique of alternating setting between the graveside and laundry in every stanza is very effective as it reminds us that this is still current issue and although the last laundry close in 1996, we as a society still have to make amends for the unnecessary suffering of these women. The poem may prove challenging for some readers because of Ní Chuilleanáin’s intricate use of language to have more than one meaning or reference. The opening line, for example, is as intricately crafted as it is eloquently put, “this soil frayed and sifted evens the score”. The word soil may reference to soil the women are buried beneath or the soil on the clothing they were forced to wash in the laundries. “Fraying” may refer to the fraying of linen or the movement of loose soil. “Evens the score” may refer to the grounds above their remains being evened out or this may be seen to suggest that, now that these women have been buried with dignity in consecrated soil, it has somehow evened the score with the nuns who treated them so harshly. Whatever way you interpret it, it is clear that Ní Chuilleanáin’s work is complex and has multiple layers. 

As I hope I have demonstrated, Ní Chuilleanáin’s demanding subject matter and formidable style can often prove challenging. (Again, a little mechanical. It's true that you are restating a lot of what you've already said, but try to be more subtle than a sledge-hammer.) Her themes, including love, death, religion and family are never straight forward, but her unique and iconic style makes for complex yet enjoyable reading.

Many thanks to the author, Ben O’Donnell

Leaving Cert essays are marked using "PCLM"

Clarity of purpose:

- The message is clear, the paragraphs are well sign-posted and the structure is transparent (though not ideal). Every paragraph addresses the question.
- So many essays I read have tons of great facts, but no structure/coherence, whereas this essay is kind of the opposite. It needs to be fleshed out with good material. This is a really important point, because "marks awarded for either Coherence of Delivery (C) or Efficiency of Language Use (L) cannot exceed the marks awarded for Clarity of Purpose."

Coherence of Delivery

- The ideas are presented in a somewhat consistent manner, but the author starts of with a theme-by-theme structure (death), but then switches to poem-by-poem. It's better to follow one or the other structure. There is reasonable continuity.
- This essay is only 780 words, that's a little short. A good essay would usually be around 1000 words. The author only answers using four poems. The author should have examined "Death and Engines" and "On Lacking the Killer Instinct" in more depth. He would have done better if he had mentioned another one or two poems, just briefly.

Efficiency of Language Use

No major issues.

Accuracy of Mechanics

It has all been tidied up here, but remember that this counts for 10%!

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