Wake: Up to Poetry
Poem of the Week: “Melusine” by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
This week’s poem comes from Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s most recent volume, The Fifty Minute Mermaid, a selection of which was included in The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry. Ní Dhomhnaill’s narrative poem, “Melusine,” is based on folklore most famously captured by the 14th century French writer Jean d’Arras. In the tale, Count Raymondin meets the beautiful yet mysterious Melusine in the forest, and the two fall in love instantly. Melusine’s only condition for marriage is that she may spend her Saturdays in solitude in her room. Raymondin agrees readily, and they live happily in a grand, isolated castle. They have three boys, but their sons each have physical defects: a giant tooth protruding from the jaw, one jet black and one blue eye, and one ear larger than the other. These odd circumstances drive Raymondin to ponder the true identity of his wife, and the nature of her weekly Saturday ritual. Is it better to seek the undesirable truth, or continue living in blissful ignorance?
She still owns
the house I live in
and all its bits and pieces.
A lonely castle beside a lake
complete with a huge bathtub
in the middle of the bedroom.
She spends the whole day in it
every Saturday, taking her ease
and kicking back and playing
in the lukewarm water, diving deep
and having it break over her again.
‘If there is a blemish or deformity
on every single one of my children,
it is what it is. I’m good with it.
I don’t begrudge them anything
but it’s still a source of great amazement to me
they managed to get born at all.’
She was right. I think we were wise
not to question her more closely.
It was lucky for us it didn’t occur to any of us
to probe more deeply
for the sake of truth.
Behind each point to be solved
lies some prying impulse. Behind the fact
is some falsehood. Beneath the floorboards
lie the ancestors,
wailing and gnashing their teeth.
And who are we to know what really happened to them?
How are we to know what pressures they were under?
How are we ever to understand what heroic feat
it took for her to struggle free of them?