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 ‘Street’. 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
- A male figure observes the butcher’s daughter from a distance as she walks through the streets. He has fallen in love with her. ‘He fell in love with the butcher’s daughter When he saw her passing by…’
- The butcher’s daughter is represented as being powerful, strong and even masculine. The striking image concerning the drops of blood coming from her knife, ‘…her white trousers…’ (male connotations) and even her label (the butcher’s daughter) suggest this.
- The male figure makes a decision to follow the woman home. He follows her ‘down the slanting lane at the back of the shambles.’ The female being observed has a certain confidence and boldness. She seems to be comfortable in her role, which is unusual for the male observer as her role is one that is traditionally associated with being a man’s job.
- The sloping lane leads to the entrance of a house in which the female lives. It is neat and clean, the opposite condition to what one might expect the shambles (slaughterhouse) to be in.
- The transition from a professional role to a more domesticated role is both emphasised and striking. The poem acknowledges, in a way, the multiple identities we assume depending on the world in which we are partaking in at any given time. It is being portrayed here that the butcher’s daughter assumes one identity while at work and another while at home.
- The butcher’s daughter removes her shoes and leaves crescent shaped blood marks as she climbs the stairs into her home. The imprints of blood gradually fade as she climbs closer and closer to home. This image symbolises the shedding of the woman’s professional role as she enters her home ‘…each tread marked with red crescent, her bare heels left…’.
- The poem insinuates that we find love locally, often falling for people whom we encounter in our everyday lives.
- This poem encourages the reader to wonder why the male observer never approaches the butcher’s daughter. Perhaps her blood stained knife, the power she seems to possess and the confidence she has intimidates him. Maybe this idea offers the reader an insight into the cultural context of Ireland at the time.
- There is a definite cinematic quality to the poem in that we move from shot to shot and are drawn into the world of the butcher’s daughter (sense of mystery).
- No interaction (sinister or romantic?) – the ‘slanting’ lane suggests that nothing in this tale is straightforward.
- The door = symbol of boundary between public and private / professional and domestic.
- The female moves further and further away from her admirer until all traces of her have vanished – she is a mystery and this is what fascinates him.
- The most engaging aspect of this poem = no views forced upon us, we must use our imagination to draw conclusions.
Themes in ‘Street’
- Strength and Power of Women (butcher’s daughter)
- Transition (transitioning from public to private / professional to domestic)
- Love (male observer in love with what the butcher’s daughter represents – not like normal girls given the cultural context of the poem. The male observer arguably is more curious and fascinated with the butcher’s daughter rather than in love with her)
Ní Chuilleanáin Exam Tips:
- Incredibly evocative (brings strong images/memories/feelings to mind) poems
- Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry at times serves as an exposé into the cultural context of Ireland at a particular moment in time
- Often alludes to fairytales (To Niall Woods/Transitions etc.)
- Complex themes delivered in accessible language (poetic techniques/imagery)
- Gives voice to the unheard
- Often celebrates strength and power in female figures
*As always, don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have via the Lee Tutorials Instagram page.