‘The Bend in the Road’
by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Upon analysing a poem, I like to decode it in a particular way. I like to read the poem as if it were a story. This helps me to generate an understanding of both the poet and the poem’s context. The following notes outline the story of ‘The Bend in the Road’. Once an understanding of this poem’s story has been established you will then be able to more effectively create your own opinions and observations.
The Story of the Poem
- The speaker and her husband stop at a particular place to wait for their son to feel better – there is nothing special about this location but it does possess a very special atmosphere. It is described as being both still and silent ‘…the road is as silent as ever it was on that day’.
- Twelve years has passed since this event took place, their son has grown considerably, the tree has changed shape and the house has become ‘…quite covered with green creeper’. Here the speaker acknowledges how things often change as they are influenced by the passage of time.
- The particular location now represents, for the speaker, all that has happened to her in her life over the past 12 years.
- The speaker laments for dead loved ones who were alive when they stopped at this location 12 years ago but who have since died. The speaker views this space as a home for the dead ‘This is the place of their presence: in the tree, in the air’.
- Viewing this place as a resting place for those who suffered with illness offers the speaker a pleasant and comforting feeling.
- The reference to the tree and cat provide a peaceful atmosphere. The speaker effectively uses a simile to extend an association of peace and serenity with this location for the reader and also uses it for descriptive purposes (to create vivid imagery in the reader’s mind’s eye).
- The notion of tales/fairytales/anecdotes resurfaces in this poem. The poem discusses how families often recall fondly seemingly irrelevant family legends ‘…the place where [their child] was sick one day on the way to the lake’. This particular story seems to have made its way into their collection of family legends (which we all have too).
- The poem also acknowledges the support systems that are evident within the family unit. The speaker recalls the time she spent with family members who were ‘…wrapped and sealed by sickness’. This insinuates that illness and the associated suffering can be an all encompassing experience for both the sick people and their families.
- This poem discusses how we often associate a particular place with deceased loved ones. These places can often provide us with a feeling of closeness to these people ‘This is the place of their presence: in the tree, in the air’.
Themes in ‘Street’
- Nature (it is clear that both plants/trees and animals offer the speaker comfort)
- Family (this poem acknowledges how we derive support and power from our family)
- Elegy (this poem can be viewed as almost being a n elegy/lament for deceased loved ones)
A Word on Poetry Exam Questions
In the prescribed poetry section of Paper 2, you are always asked to discuss the poet’s themes and the language they use. As long as you can reference how a particular language techniques helped the poet to deliver various messages in relation to their themes, you will be able to answer any question you get on the day of the exam.
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