This poem, on the surface, is concerned with the relationships between the native tenantry and the English and Scottish planters who arrived in Ireland during the 16th and 17th Centuries. The central feature of the poem is the poet's obvious admiration for the planter's daughter. She represents a traditional Celtic ideal of female beauty, she is the spéirbhean, the banshee, the aisling and other heroines of Celtic literature. Like all of these, there is an air of unreality about the planter's daughter, there is an element of the supra-natural in the poets description of her.
Clarke uses suggestion rather than obvious or exact description to present the beauty of the planter's daughter. The richly suggestive imagery conveys to the reader an individual image of the planter's daughter, in this poem she represents an ideal Ireland, where both native and planter cultures are fused to create a greater one. The poem has contemporary overtones, as Clarke is concerned with the national-unionist divide in Ireland at the time and his portrait of the planter's daughter is designed to produce an image of a unified country. The setting for the poem is typical of the Irish countryside in a period prior to electrification. A local fishing community is gathered at night and the main topic of discussion was the beauty of the planter's daughter.
As in The Blackbird of Derrycairn and The Lost Heifer, Clarke accurately evokes the atmosphere, landscape and climate of Ireland, "When night stirred at sea". He uses all of the senses to create for the reader a powerful image of the planter's daughter, her beauty was "Music in mouth", this image conjures up the deep feeling associated with traditional song and the sense of adulation associated with the subject matter of the song. He continues "Men that had seen her drank deep and were silent", three senses are invoked in this image, sight, taste and sound. The suggestion here is that men were lost for words in describing her beauty, in contrast "the women were speaking wherever she went". The use of the 'w' sound indicates the difficulty in finding words that can define her beauty. The 'w' sound is one of the more unusual and it's usage in the second stanza shows the lengths that Clarke went to, to create this idea. The planter's daughter is awarded the highest possible accolade, "O she was the Sunday in every week". Here Clarke compares her to be one day of rest that the tenantry enjoyed in the week, the single day in which the tenantry reserved for worship and therefore indirectly she is put on a pedestal with the object of that worship, i.e. God.
Home : Austin Clarke : Aspect of Clarke's Poetry : The Blackbird of Derrycairn : The Lost Heifer