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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

The Midnight Court

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Originally written in the Irish language by the 18th-century poet Brian Merriman (circa 1745–1805), The Midnight Court is here translated by one of Ireland’s distinguished contemporary poets, Ciaran Carson. This extended satiric poem assesses the growing economic, political, and familial constraints of late 18th-century Catholic Ireland under British colonial rule, while subversively playing on the tradition of the aisling (or vision) poem in which a beautiful woman represents Ireland’s threatened sovereignty.

At the beginning of The Midnight Court, a dreadful female envoy from the fairies appears in a dream to the unmarried poet. She summons him before the court of Queen Aoibheall in order to answer charges of wasting his manhood while women are dying for want of love. He listens to complaints that vary from the celibacy of the clergy to marriages performed between old and young for purely economic reasons. In all their bawdy tales, the female courtiers praise fertility, as well as sexual fulfillment, and condemn the conventions of the day. At last the Queen pronounces judgment on the poet, who awakens as he is being severely chastised by all of the women of the court.

While containing many insights into 18th-century social conditions, The Midnight Court is also an exuberant, even jaunty work of the comic imagination. As the translator Ciaran Carson states in his foreword: “The protagonists of the ‘Court,’ including ‘Merriman’ himself, are ghosts, summoned into being by language; they are figments of the imagination. In the ‘Court’ the language itself is continually interrogated and Merriman is the great illusionist, continually spiriting words into another dimension.”

Note: The clothbound edition has a signature embossed cover and a plain vellum jacket. Signed and unsigned editions are available.


Reviews

“Carson’s translation of The Midnight Court is that rarest of things: a small and utterly enjoyable masterpiece. It brings to a wider audience than ever before a great and neglected piece of 18th-century literature and, to an American readership, something equally important. In this country, poetry now is more frequently written than read, and the pleasures of the long poem are all but lost. By and large, our poets lack ambition and their meager audiences the patience. What Carson offers the willing in these 60 pages of poetry with a brief introduction is a rollicking evening of instruction in the pleasures of a long and entertaining poem.”
– Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

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Description

Originally written in the Irish language by the 18th-century poet Brian Merriman (circa 1745–1805), The Midnight Court is here translated by one of Ireland’s distinguished contemporary poets, Ciaran Carson. This extended satiric poem assesses the growing economic, political, and familial constraints of late 18th-century Catholic Ireland under British colonial rule, while subversively playing on the tradition of the aisling (or vision) poem in which a beautiful woman represents Ireland’s threatened sovereignty.

At the beginning of The Midnight Court, a dreadful female envoy from the fairies appears in a dream to the unmarried poet. She summons him before the court of Queen Aoibheall in order to answer charges of wasting his manhood while women are dying for want of love. He listens to complaints that vary from the celibacy of the clergy to marriages performed between old and young for purely economic reasons. In all their bawdy tales, the female courtiers praise fertility, as well as sexual fulfillment, and condemn the conventions of the day. At last the Queen pronounces judgment on the poet, who awakens as he is being severely chastised by all of the women of the court.

While containing many insights into 18th-century social conditions, The Midnight Court is also an exuberant, even jaunty work of the comic imagination. As the translator Ciaran Carson states in his foreword: “The protagonists of the ‘Court,’ including ‘Merriman’ himself, are ghosts, summoned into being by language; they are figments of the imagination. In the ‘Court’ the language itself is continually interrogated and Merriman is the great illusionist, continually spiriting words into another dimension.”

Note: The clothbound edition has a signature embossed cover and a plain vellum jacket. Signed and unsigned editions are available.


Reviews

“Carson’s translation of The Midnight Court is that rarest of things: a small and utterly enjoyable masterpiece. It brings to a wider audience than ever before a great and neglected piece of 18th-century literature and, to an American readership, something equally important. In this country, poetry now is more frequently written than read, and the pleasures of the long poem are all but lost. By and large, our poets lack ambition and their meager audiences the patience. What Carson offers the willing in these 60 pages of poetry with a brief introduction is a rollicking evening of instruction in the pleasures of a long and entertaining poem.”
– Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

Additional information

Publication date:

2006

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