Saturday, September 20, 2014

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin - to Niall Woods and Xenya Ostrovskaia, married in Dublin on 9 September 2009

In Brief

Niall Woods is Ní Chuilleanáin’s son and Xenya Ostrovskaia was the woman he married in September 2009.  Ní Chuilleanáin wrote the poem to commemorate their wedding and give her blessing to their marriage.

In the poem she references many different folk tales both Irish and Russian and also the Book of Ruth from the Bible.  These stories all deal with people starting out on adventurous journeys and, to varying degrees, feature ‘happily ever after’ endings. The poet’s message is that one has to take risks and persevere to earn the good things in life, especially love.

Stanza by Stanza

The poem opens with a direct address to the couple about to be wed. She says that when they ‘both see the same star/ Pitching its tent on the point of the steeple’ it will be time for their journey together to begin. 

The folk tale references

  • The Red Ettin – a tale about three sons setting out on journeys – each one is given the choice to take a full loaf and their mother’s curse or half a loaf and their mother’s blessing.  Only the youngest son makes the latter choice and he succeeds in marrying a beautiful princess.
  • Sleeping Beauty – the familiar folktale of a cursed princess rescued by a courageous prince.
  • The Firebird – a Russian folktale about an emperor whose golden apples are being stolen at night-time. The emperor commands his sons to find out who the thief is and only the youngest son succeeds. He sets out on journey to catch the culprit, the firebird, and eventually succeeds and marries a beautiful princess.
  • The King of Ireland’s Son and the Enchanter’s Daughter – the story of a prince who loses a wager to an enchanter and has to complete the tasks set by him. Eventually he succeeds marries the enchanter’s daughter!

The Book of Ruth:

The final story she references is the Book of Ruth from the Bible. Ruth was a Moabite who travelled far away from home to marry an Israelite.  After her husband died Ruth remained loyal to her mother-in-law Naomi saying ‘whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’ She eventual married again largely as a result of her loyalty to Naomi and lives happily ever after.

All of these references encourage courage in the face being far away from home.  Niall and Xenya’s marriage is seen as the start of a great adventure and she tells them not to be afraid to ‘leave behind the places’ that they know.  The stories from their respective cultures will keep them connected to home: ‘All that you leave behind you will find once more.’ 

The Book of Ruth showing Ruth’s relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi.

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