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The Midnight Verdict ePub

In a brief translator’s note Heaney refers to this slender volume as The Midnight Court. A better title, I think. A verdict is done, a decision made, whereas a court is a place for argument and these three excerpts are more an argument than a decision. The volume includes two translations from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, “Orpheus and Eurydice” and “The Death of Orpheus,” sandwiching one from the Irish poet Brian Merriman, the title translation. Orpheus loses his true love on their wedding day, poisoned by the bite of a snake. He goes to the underworld to retrieve her. The lords of the underworld swayed by his grief and the magic of his music allow her to leave, though she must trail behind Orpheus and he must not look back until they have returned to the world of the living. He does, of course, look back and loses his love again to death. The middle excerpt tells the story of a swain’s dream in which he is brought before a court of goddesses to stand trial for all Irishmen who withhold their love—a crime to which Frank McCourt once referred to as the "lack of the Irish." He does not do well. The court renders a verdict of frightful rampage on his person and dismemberment. He awakes, relieved but in tact. Orpheus death, on the other hand, comes at the hands of such a mob of denied women, would-be lovers driven mad by his refusal to accept any woman’s affection other than Eurydice's. They shred him like an old dress reduced to rags and instantly regret their fury, helped by the god Bacchus who turns them to deep-rooted trees. Meanwhile, Orpheus’s shade “fled underneath the earth / Past landmarks that he recognized, down paths / He’d traveled on the first time, desperately / Scouring the blessed fields for Eurydice. / And when he found her, wound her in his arms / And moved with her, and she with him, two forms / Of the one love, restored and mutual— / For Orpheus now walks free, is free to fall / Out of step, into step, follow, go in front / And look behind him to his heart’s content.” So, a happy ending. Heaney is a masterful translator, making each of the excerpts work alone and as a kind of a sequence. But the thematic connection's working doesn’t make it more than an interesting exercise—showcasing the universal facts of love, longing, curiosity, freedom, responsibility, revenge and the jumbled soup they make, rather than a significant work. What really binds the Merriman to the Ovid beyond a theme? How does the middle speak to the ends? Well, it’s Heaney so it's more interesting than a mortal's exercise because the narrative language is so rich without show and the mind behind the words so respectful and incisive that it is a high order literary exercise and one that allows the reader to revisit Ovid and be introduced to Merriman.
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