‘The Girl with the Keys to Pearse’s Cottage’
by Paul Durcan
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 Girl with the Keys to Pearse’s Cottage’. 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 poet reminisces on a summer he spent in Rosmuc as a teenager. While there he fell in love with a girl named Cáit Killann. He describes her as a ‘…dark girl’. This perhaps suggests that she possess the alluring complexion common to many people from the Connemara region.
- Cáit is portrayed as a beautiful girl from the beginning of this poem. Durcan compares her to the women the famous artist ‘El Greco’ often painted. These women were famously sultry and sallow (Spanish like complexion). This women obtained the keys to Padraig Pearse’s cottage.
- Durcan was immediately attracted to both Cáit and the house. We get a sense from his descriptions of the house that Pearse was both a passionate revolutionist and a bookish-indoorsy person.
- The poet is clearly smitten with Càit. He describes her in a very powerful and sensuous manner, using descriptive phrases and alliteration to paint a picture of the clothes she is wearing. For example ‘In sun-red skirt…’ and ‘…moon-black blazer’.
- The poet spent time that summer writing poems about Càit. The poems he wrote were filled with passion, indicating the intense feelings he had for her.
- The poet acknowledges the mass exodus of Ireland’s youth to America in the 1960’s. Cáit was one of thousands to leave the Emerald Isle in search of a better life.
- We, the readers, get the sense that Cáit had already mentally moved from Ireland. She was now almost a stranger in her home country ‘Our world was strange because it had no future…‘. She had no purpose in Ireland anymore.
- Durcan poignantly laments how Cáit was forced to leave Ireland ‘O Cáit Killann, O Càit Killan, You have gone with your keys from your own native place’.
- Durcan writes this poem as he remembers her dark skin and piercing El Greco eyes, even though she is long gone from his life now.
- This poem exposes Ireland as a failing country, a country whose founding fathers would perhaps be ashamed of. It exposes the country’s inability to cater for the growth of it’s young people.
- The cottage serves as a powerful metaphor for Ireland. The cottages primitive state mirrors the primitivity of life in Ireland at the time. There is a sense therefore that Ireland is too inward looking (only 2 windows) and backward looking (many photographs of the past) to become a truly modern state.
Poetic Techniques Evident:
- Alliteration: ‘Photographs of the passionate and pale Pearse.’
- Adjectives: ‘…dark…’, ‘…whitewashed walls…’ and ‘…bare brown rooms…’.
- Metaphor: ‘El Greco eyes blaze back…’ and ‘…two windows and cosmic peace…’
- Repetition: ‘Cáit Killann’
As always, don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have.