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Brian Merriman (c. 1747-1805)
Brian Merriman, poet, was born at Ennistymon, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. For some reason which is not known the whole family and some friends migrated to the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Brian spent his childhood here. The details of his education are not clear but it is probable that he attended a hedge-school, and may have picked up scraps of learning from wandering poor scholars and poets. There are conflicting biographical accounts of his life. One manuscript says "He was a wild and pleasure seeking youth but an accomplished performer on the violin." He married a woman from Feakle in 1787 and they had two daughters.
I chose the translation of Arland Ussher. This is comparatively recent; into the twentieth century. Ussher's translation still had to be closely watched (in these days of the politically correct, you can offend anyone without effort).
I suggest you read the poem with two thoughts firmly in mind: one, it was written around 1780 and two, it was originally in Irish. So, then, have a go and it will give a lot of laughs and some serious thoughts and perpectives on the world of Merriman and of today.
The Midnight Court
by Brian Merriman (c.1780)
Translated by Arland Ussher
Scarce ended was the maid's harangue
When a gruff old warrior upsprang
Of rugged build and rude attire
And trembling less with age than ire,
A ragged, tattered, battered figure,
And up he stood and spoke with vigour: -
'The devil snatch you, snotty bitch,
You dowdy daughter of a witch,
Our sun's eclipse, sure, is no wonder
And all the ills we labour under,
That still our numbers, wealth and worth
Decay and dwindle from the earth,
For artful women are our ruin
And all we suffer is their doing.
You shameless drab, where is the man
That knows not you and all your clan
Who begging of your betters pass
A streeling, straying, cadging class?
Who is there doesn't know your dad
A brutal, brawling, crawling cad,
A spalpeen without friends or fame
Whom no one speaks of but to blame,
A withe around his waist, his back
Unclad but for a clout of sack?
Believe my words, if he and his
Were all sold up, from what there is
The proceeds would not quench your thirst
When every debt had been disbursed.
Is't not a joke uncommon how
A beggar without sheep or cow
Parades in satin, silk and lace
With handkerchief to fan her face?
Your ruffles and your cambric sleeve
And bonnet cleverly deceive
Altho' beneath your coat, alack,
No shred nor tatter clothes your back.
But who could your make-up discover
Or guess unless he were you lover
That canvas bands your hips encased
And they're not stays that press your waist,
Or that beneath the gloves you wore
Your hands were chapped and cracked and sore?
But tell the court or else must I
How long you've ate your dinner dry
And griped your stomach as with hooks
By eating sour unsalted Bucks.
I've seen the place in which you sleep,
Nor quilt nor cover there you keep,
Nought but a dirty mat outspread
Where not a dog would lay his head,
With neither blanket, rag nor sheet
In your poor frame to keep the heat,
Within a reeking, leaking shack
With sprouting weeds in every crack,
With water springing thro' the floor
And trail of hens from door to door
And crazy roof and couples bending
And rain in fearful floods descending.
By all the saints, to see her pass
You'd say she was a likely lass,
With flaunting gown and fine array,
Where did she raise it, who can say?
Come tell us where you got the gown,
Whence have the frills and flounces flown,
Whence came the shoes, whence came the coat,
Whence did the rings and ribbons float?
Just Eevell, grant me too a hearing
And help the hapless men of Erin
By scheming females bought and bound
And like stray bullocks put in pound.
Come hear a case, my own next neighbor
Who makes a living off his labour,
A simple, sober, honest boy
has taken a jilt to kill his joy.
It makes my heart to smart with passion
To see her flounced out in the fashion,
With corn in barn and scores of cattle
And land and cash in hand to rattle.
I saw her lately at the fair
With lofty look and nose in air
Compelling every passer-by
To doff before her queenly eye.
So proud her air and her address,
So grave her carriage, who would guess
What light repute, what evil fame,
The country gave her whence she came,
Or that the name of that wild wench
Made every matron blush and blench?
The world will talk, as well it may,
Of all her deeds for many a day,
And what at Ibrickane was seen
Or Tiermaclane of meadows green;
Her name and fame will never fade
In Craglee where the rope is made,
At Ennis, Quin and Killaloe,
And up and down the country thro'.
Of fie, alas for female fame!
I might forgive her former shame,
But lately far from her abode
I spied her on the Doora Road,
Stretched out naked as a n*gger
beneath each rude and rough turf-digger.
What grace in rite of clergy dwells!
Or who can read the riddle else?
That she was slender all her life
Until she was a wedded wife,
Tho' every gallant in the land
'Tis known enjoyed her favours bland,
And from the day the priest did read
The Ego Vos that Christ decreed
Till she was running at the paps
Not less than nine months did elapse.
What man alive, if warned before
The wedding service shut the door
And barred escape, would mar his life
And kill contentment with a wife?
Alas! the theme affects me nearly,
And for my knowledge I've paid dearly;
The world knows well how once I held
My head up high, my heart unquelled,
My house with meat and drink replete
Where squires and justices might meet,
My fields in flocks and herds abounding
And rich and poor my praises sounding,
With friends and fame among the great,
A man of substance, worth and weight,
With peace and plenty as my portion -
With Kate I lost both fame and fortune.
She was a damsel plump and fair,
A curl in her comely auburn hair,
A light in her lewd insidious eyes,
And each lure that the daughters of Eve devise,
Shapely and smooth in frame and face,
With a ravishing charm in her air and grace,
My sense and my reason the rogue did steal
And I shook with desire from head to heel
Lord! for my folly I've paid in full
In taking for wife that trolloping trull,
Day and night I am treading on needles and pins
Since I buckled that bride to my side - for my sins!
We were joined by the glue of that joiner forever
In the splice we might split not till death should dissever,
With my own purse I paid without stint or evasion
Every debt that was due for that day's dissipation,
The town I regaled with a fabulous feast
And paid a fat fee to the clerk and the priest,
The neighbors were gathered from far and from wide
To carouse at the cost of the bridegroom and bride,
the torches were lit and the tables spread thick
With drink till each guest was stretched speechless and sick,
There was music and singing and sets of quadrilles
With the men in their frocks and the ladies in frills.
Ah, would they had crammed me with meat and with wine
Till I choked and I never had lived to repine
With the wretch who has wrested my comfort away
And driven me senseless and friendless and gray!
Not long was I married before I was told
By neighbors and strangers, by young and by old,
She was gadding to revels and reckless carouses
With lovers in legions, both single and spouses.
I believed not a word that I heard of her fame
Nor would suffer one speck to besmirch her good name
And set down to malice or idle invention
Whatever the gossips against her might mention,
Whilst like a fond fool I believed all the lies
Which her false lips affirmed with sobs and with sighs.
No idle reports or vain rumours were they
That came to my ears both by night and by day,
For no further the painful account to pursue -
Young master appeared long before he was due.
Picture at waking my wonder and fright -
A family warming me after the night!
The mother in bed and the midwife attending,
For posset and sugar and fresh fuel sending.
Not a sight nor a peep could I get of the pup,
The women to hoodwink me covered him up,
''Twere wrong to expose him, so young and so frail,
The wind would destroy if a breath should assail.'
They argued and pleaded and weeping implored,
I threatened with fury and swore by the Lord,
I stamped and I ramped and I raged and reviled
Until weary of strife they surrendered the child.
'Lift him up gently, have a care how you take him,
Mind not to bruise him or squeeze him or shake him,
A fall she had forced him before the date surely,
It's ten chances to one that he'll die prematurely,
If he lives till the morning in time for the priest
To be called for the christening he's better deceased.'
I cut the knot from the swathing wrap
And laid the baby across my lap -
By heaven, the child was a powerful brat,
Sturdy and strong and bonny and fat,
Without flaw in flesh, in blood or in bone,
With nostrils wide and with nails full-grown,
Broad and brawny in thighs and chest
And with face and figure as good as the best!
I laughed aloud at the vain delusion
And the women were covered with fright and confusion.
This bond of the prelates I pray you revoke
For the sake of the necks not yet under the yoke,
'Tis the cause of the dearth and decrease of our nation
And the source of our sickly and sad generation,
but a brave breed of heroes would spring in its place,
If this bar were removed, to replenish the race,
For why call a priest in to bind and to bless
before candid nature can give one caress?
Why lay the banquet and why pay the band
To blow the bassoons and their cheeks to expand?
Since Mary the Mother of God did conceive
Without calling the clergy or begging their leave,
The love-gotten children are famed as the flower
Of man's procreation and nature's power;
For love is a lustier sire than law
And has made them sound without fault or flaw,
And better and braver in heart and head
Than the puny breed of the bridal bed,
In body and brains and gifts and grace
The palm is borne by the bastard race.
'Tis easy to prove the thing I say
For I've one of my own, mavrone, this day,
Look at him on his nurse's knee,
Let him be brought that the court may see.
Say when did you see so fine a creature?
Where is his flaw in form or feature?
'Tis easily known when grown a man
Passers will pause his shape to scan.
He's not feeble or frail or pale or thin
Nor a shapeless bundle of bone and skin,
Not lean or lanky or sickly or sad
But an eager and active and lusty lad.
Never an aged sire begat
In a cold embrace that comely brat,
A weary, wasted and worn old man,
Wrinkled and shrunk and weak and wan,
But some sturdy stripling, brisk and brave,
Tingling and taut with nature's crave.
Then, O peerless maid, impose no more
To sully our stock this senseless law,
But let simple nature and noble blood
Mix and make a godlike brood;
Let high and low in love unite
Like the birds and beasts by nature's right,
And tell the tidings of this decree
In the cot and the castle from sea to sea.
'Twill restore to Erin the spirit of old
And rear a race of heroic mould
With back and sinews and thighs and chest
Such as Gaull MacMorna of yore possessed;
The seas will be filled with more fish than now
And the mountains yield to the tooth of the plough
And your name will be lauded far and wide
And your fame in the land for ever abide.'
The Midnight Court Part One - - The Midnight Court Part Three
For more Poetry Click the Poetry Index.
Thu, Jul 9, 2015
No matter who does the collecting, the works stand on their own but this is an excellent compilation and well worth adding to your library.
Click here for Yeats.
Interested in Irish Poetry?Here's the easy way to collect them all (well, almost all, anyway).
Malachy McCourt says in his introduction, "With the republication of this book, the Irish recover under their roof of stars all the great poets and writers who have been falsely claimed by the saxon crown and its minions - even our reprobates."
Amazon states this is out of stock. They still have used copies for almost nothing (except shipping - chuckle). If you would like a new edition, it was available at Powell's. We can't promise it's still there. Click here for Powell's 1000 Years.
Click here for used at Amazon.