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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
Soon as the maid had told her woes
The gentle lady radiant rose,
Her face the fairest eye has scanned,
Her voice the sweetest in the land.
She rose with mien and manner grave
And thus considered sentence gave,
The whole court harkening in suspense
With eager expectation tense: -
'Oh sorrow-stricken maid, your tear
And prayer fall not unheeded here;
We see, and the sad sight deplore,
The seed of Orla, Maive and Mor
A dwindling, dying, shrinking breed
Unsought by suitors in their need,
Unwooed, unwed and gone to waste,
By waxing offspring unreplaced.
Hence we decree that from this date
The adult male without a mate
Be taken up and tightly tied
Against this tree the tomb beside,
Of coat and shirt be naked stript
And with a stout cord soundly whipt.
But those who well in years have gone
And still have basely hid the horn,
Who've wasted manhood's force and fire
Without delight from their desire,
Who've spent their strength and past their prime
And not made hay in summertime,
Ye spinsters sad, I leave to you
To wreak revenge upon the crew;
Go wrack and wrench and rend and flay
Or with slow fire consume their clay,
With wracking pangs your wrongs requite
And straightway strive to sate your spite,
With female art their fate devise
And heed ye not their craven cries.
There came a whisper to my ears -
Speak soft and low, who knows who hears?
With hand on mouth, by me be taught,
It is not safe to say your thought -
beware the while the powers that be,
They'll have to marry yet, you'll see,
Tho' long deferred the day will come
With license from the Pope at Rome;
They'll sit in council on your case
And straight release the priestly race
In east and west and south and north
To woo and wed and wax thenceforth.
Good folk, farewell, I cannot stay,
The hour is late and long the way,
Delay won't suit, my calls won't bide,
The guilt is proved, the case is tried.
'Twill not be long till I return -
The men unmarried 'twill concern,
And heartless gallants who aspire
To rouse and not requite desire,
Who love to lightly kiss and tell
And boast what fortune them befell,
Who woo with false and feigning smiles
And ruin maids with wanton wiles;
They do not act from am'rous fire
From youth's hot blood and bland desire,
But as bold rogues and rakes to pose
And puff their breasts and boast as beaus.
I'll deal with these without delay,
But first I hence must haste away,
I'll bind them with the nuptial vow
When I return, a month from now.'
She ceased and I was seized with dread,
My heart sank sick and swam my head,
my blood ran cold, my sight grew blear,
My knees knocked fit to fail with fear;
Her sentence did my sense dumbfound
And still there dinned its dismal sound.
The bailiff on the bench beheld
My fainting fit by fright compelled,
She dragged me by the ear and drew
And dropped me in the public view.
The maid leapt up on vengence bent
To vent her venom and torment,
With vigorous spite and vexéd spleen
She rose and yelled with oaths obscene: -
'Tis long I've marked you, lousy lout,
A lazy lump your life throughout,
How oft you were pursued and sought
by needy maids, responding nought!
What sons you as their sire proclaim?
What woman thanks you for the same?
What favour can you hope to find
Or how escape the scourge assigned?
To whose protection can you trust
Or how evade our vengence just?
O queen, your justice now begin,
There's no excuse can save his skin
Tho' bent his back and rude his build
When blooms are rare a weed is culled,
Whate'er is male for matings meet,
Mis-shapen cows give milk that's sweet,
'twixt homely swain and handsome spark
We see no difference in the dark.
I shake with zeal to testify,
'Tis vain to shuffle or deny,
Your guilt is graven on your brow -
Two score without the nuptial vow!
O peerless maid, my wrongs I pray
Upon this wretch I may repay,
Come friends and catch and bind him fast,
Let's make the rogue repent at last!
Go, Una, fetch a knotted rope,
Be busy, Anne, and cease to mope,
Go, Mary, bring a cord and bind
The prisoner's hands his back behind,
Come, Maureen, Jane and Kate and Maive,
And sate your spite upon the slave,
Lay on the lash with might and main
And pierce him with the sharpest pain!
Regard not cries or screams or groans
But flay the flesh from off his bones,
And let the blood in rivers flow
From back and sides at every blow!
Strain arms and raise the scourge on high,
With tireless zeal the torment ply,
And let the rumour run and make
The hearts of the unmarried quake!
To-day a new reign is begun
Of peace since women's rights are won;
Our waiting and our weeping past,
Our tears and prayers prevail at last.
I beg you take five score and ten,
Subtract it from a thousand then,
And double the remainder pray,
And date the year One from that day!'
I heard with reeling head my fate,
When as she paused to pen the date
I broke from sleep, forgot my pain,
And woke to light and life again.
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.