The Astrakhan Cloak, published in 1992, is a collection of poems by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. Several aspects of the book deserve notice from the reader, including structural and thematic elements that work to develop an overall sense of mystery, wonder, and loss. A significant theme of the poems in the collection is the dichotomy of the supernatural and civilized worlds, and the sense that there are forces in the world just beyond our perception and understanding. In general the poems presented are short, but the final inclusion is a longer poem divided into sections, each somewhat able stand on its own. Read as a whole the final poem underscores the central themes presented in the book.
Ní Dhomhnaill wrote the collection in Irish, but translations are provided on the facing pages. It is important to consider why the book was published in both languages. At the simplest level, the poet wanted people to read her work, and the market for poetry in English is larger than that in Irish. However, there are other considerations to keep in mind. First, the decision to print poems in both Irish and English brings to the mind of the reader some of the mystery inherent in other languages, especially the supernatural connotations of Celtic language. Viewing the poems in Irish reinforces the idea that some things are outside the realm of human understanding. Reading a translation is not the same as reading an original work; the reader
cannot help but wonder what meaning the foreign words might carry that is lost in translation. That constant reminder throughout the collection enhances the sense of there being something just beyond perception that is beautiful and mysterious. Many of the poem...
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...section of The Voyage, Two Men, tells of an encounter with the "Isle of Enchantment", Hy-Breasil. When the sailors in the poem encounter the island, they are caught up in "the relative merits of coal or clod", symbolizing the obsession with the everyday world, while "the island itself was covered by a blanket of cloud/and completely disappeared from view." (103) Finally, the island, and all the supernatural wonder it represents is lost, outside the reach of humanity.
Ellmann, Richard and O'Clair, Robert, ed. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Second Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988.
Ní Dhomhnaill, Nuala. The Astrakhan Cloak. Trans. Paul Muldoon. Loughcrew: The Gallery Press, 1992
"astrakhan." Encyclopedia Britanicca Online Dictionary
[Accessed 11 November 2004].
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