Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin


Griffin Poetry Prize 2010
International Winner

Book: The Sun-fish

Poet: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Publisher: The Gallery Press

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin reads The Sister

The Sister, by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

The Sister


How on earth did she manage
That journey on her own?
When she was a young woman
They had plenty to keep them busy,
They were small, they felt queasy,
They gripped a pillar in the shade
And held on,

And as for leaving home –
Still, the trains have never changed,
They thunder up the valleys,
Built for strapping fellows
Flinging their big bundles
Easily on to high shelves –
Real men.

She turned up at the station,
Small, her clothes, once elegant,
All black. Past the train window
Slid the suburbs, a fast river.
She saw a white-haired man, waist-deep,
Ducking under and rising again –
A cormorant.


A lump of a lad handed her bag down to her.
Lopsided she walked as far as the convent door.
They greeted her with a leathery kiss, they told her
Where to find her bed and the hour of dinner.

They knew the silent meal would be no surprise,
No more than the hard bread, tougher at every slice,
Nor the dead silence of night until the first train
Troubled the valley. She would know, lying there,
Others were sitting up, working in pairs,
To finish the stitching, tacking the last of the lace.

But the cold woke her, and a subtle mist, as fine
As gauze, hung on the glass. In the freezing dawn
She dragged a web just as light across her skin,
Veiling herself for good, and she slept on.

From The Sun-fish, by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
© Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin 2009

One thought on “Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

  1. Visually reading the lines did not bring the reality of the life soon to be for the young woman. Listening to the reading by Eilean gave me the rhythm of the train bringing her to the world that would be hers forever – wondering, was this an expectation placed on her by the family or the calling she was meant to follow? Beautiful and has me in search of her book of poems – thank you.

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