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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
Meanwhile the maid could scarce restrain
The angry tears which sprang amain,
With shaking voice and eyes inflamed
Rose she in wrath and thus exclaimed: -
'O wretch, by Craglee's crown I swear
But that you're old and crazed with care
And but for the ceremony that's due
To this court 'twould be short till I'd do for you!
I'd knock your noddle 'gainst the table
And break your bones and your limbs disable,
And wring your stringy windpipe well
And pitch your soul to the pit of hell.
I wonder breathless at your brass
But I'll not let the libel pass,
The story straightway I'll relate
Of that unhappy fair one's fate.
She was poor and in sad plight
Without shelter from wind and rain at night,
Homeless and driven for no sin
From fence to ditch without friends or kin.
The old stick offered her silver and gold,
A roof and turf from the rain and cold,
Flax and wool to weave and wear,
And cattle and sheep and goods and gear.
The world and this worm himself well knew
She cared not for him nor ever could do,
But worn by want and her abject state
Chose the lesser ill of an unloved mate.
Woeful work was his weak embrace
And the old goat's rough mouth on her face,
His limbs of lead and his legs of ice
And his lifeless load on her breast and thighs,
His blue-blotched shins so bleak and cold
And the bleached skin hanging in fold on fold.
Was there ever a fine girl fresh and fair
Who would not grow gray with grief and care
To bed with a bundle of skin and bone
As cold and stiff as a stick or stone,
Who would scarcely lift the lid from the dish
To know was it flesh or fowl or fish?
Ah say, I pray, had she not the right
To one caress in the course of a night?
Did she fail thro' her fault d'you think?
'Tis sure from her share she ne'er would shrink;
The brunt of the battle she would not burke
Or blench if the livelong night were work.
If he got the horns he deserved the same
And the luckless lady was not to blame;
Where's the fox that prowls or the owl that preys
Or the fish that swims or the stag that strays
That would starve or stint for a single day
With booty there to be borne away?
Is there bird or beast in the whole wide earth
That would droop and die from drouth or dearth
And peck the pavement or bite the ground
Where pastures fat and fruits abound?
Come answer me this, you cur, confess,
Is the table poorer, the banquet less,
Does the dish disgust which pleased before,
Does the pang of hunger plague the more,
Is the rapture fainter, the flavour fled,
If a score of others before have fed?
Do you dread, you dotard, of drouth to die,
Can you drain the Shannon or drink it dry,
Can you draw the sea from its base of sand,
Or hold its waters within your hand?
Learn your folly, you mangy hound,
Go bind your eyes with a bandage round,
Don't fume or fret or resentment chew,
If the fair has favours for more than you,
If she saw her lovers the livelong day
Is the night not enough for your purpose, pray?
The blame, I own, would be not so great
In a young and limber and lusty mate,
A frisky flaker in manhood's noon,
A sly heart-breaker or gay gossoon,
A roguish coaxer or sprightly spark,
A tasty trickster nate and smart,
Bonny and brisk and blithe and bold
With features and form of comely mould;
But see what he is, a stunted stick
Lifeless and limp with scarce a kick.
It's often I've asked and sought in vain
What is the use of rule insane
That marriage has closed to the clerical clan
In the church of our fathers since first it began.
It's a melancholy sight to a needy maid
Their comely faces and forms displayed,
Their hips and thighs so broad and round,
Their buttocks and breasts that in flesh abound,
Their lustrous looks and their lusty limbs,
Their fair fresh features, their smooth soft skins,
Their strength and stature, their force and fire,
Their craving curbed and uncooled desire.
They eat and drink of the fat of the land,
They've wealth and comfort at their command,
They sleep on beds of the softest down,
They've ease and leisure their lot to crown,
They commence in manhood's prime and flood,
And well we know that they're flesh and blood!
If I thought that sexless saints they were
Or holy angels, I would not care,
But they're lusty lads with a crave unsated
In slothful sleep, and the maids unmated.
We know it is true there are few but hate
The lonely life and the celibate state;
Is it fair to condemn them to mope and moan,
Is it fair to force them to lie alone,
To bereave of issue a sturdy band
The fruit of whose loins might free the land?
Tho' some of them ever were grim and gruff,
intractable, sullen and stern and tough,
Crabbed and cross, unkind and cold,
Surly and wont to scowl and scold,
Many are made of warmer clay,
Affectionate, ardent, kind and gay;
It's often a woman got land or wealth,
Store or stock from a priest by stealth,
Many's the case I call to mind
Of clergymen who were slyly kind,
I could show you women who were their flames,
And their children reared beneath false names;
And often I must lament in vain
How they waste their strength on the old and plain
While marriageable maids their plight deplore
Waiting unwooed thro' this senseless law;
'Tis a baleful ban to our hapless race
And beneath its sway we decay apace.
O fount of wisdom, I leave to you
To declare and reveal the reason true;
Deceived and undone they sleep I deem,
Illumine my mind with the gospel's gleam,
What did the prophets preach, I pray
Or Saint Paul whose words were weighty say?
The scripture, if I remember, ran
The taint of the flesh is the fruit of this ban,
Paul the Apostle said to none
To abandon marriage, but lust to shun,
Your closest kindred to leave and go
To cleave to your wife for weal or woe;
God did not wish the mother forsaken
And the part of the women the prophets have taken.
'Tis a senseless thing for the like of me
Your instructor in sacred writ to be,
You yourself, O sovran bright,
Remember the holy words aright,
The sense of every saying is plain
To you, and each act that the saints ordain.
Then, O daughter of kings, revoke this law,
Let it stand to mar our stock no more,
Release the clergy to mate and breed
That the land may teem with their sturdy seed,
Do not deny the women redress
Nor leave them to languish in this distress,
See how the ground in crowds they cumber
And by three to one they the men outnumber;
The smallest shoots that you pass to-day
Springing unseen from the fertile clay
To-morrow will yield a crop mature
To rot on the stem and drop obscure,
Ah woe is me! my words are vain
And to what end do I thus complain?
What are my tears and entreaties worth
Or how can I hope in the face of this dearth?
With this land of the best of its men bereft
And none but weaklings and wastrels left,
With our comely girls growing old and gray
Waiting for someone the word to say,
And so desperate and desolate grown that they'll
Take anything that can be called a male.
Take the men, harness them by our side
And there obedient bid them bide.'
The Midnight Court Part Two - - The Midnight Court Part Four
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.