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The Fifty Minute Mermaid


Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill


Translated by Paul Muldoon

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The extravaganza of marvellous tales in The Fifty Minute Mermaid conjures a biography of mermaids and, in patterns of sometimes startling sounds and images, traces the fate of their race. It follows the paths and portals to another world, Land-Under-Wave, the realm of myth, imagination and the psyche. It is a book in touch and tune with the wellsprings of poetry.

Neither ‘believing nor disbelieving’, sometimes insouciant and always wideranging, The Fifty Minute Mermaid is a book of accumulating force and subtle consonance. Paul Muldoon’s generous surrender to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s poems supports José Saramago’s adage that the author with his or her language creates a national literature. World literature is created by translators.

‘There is no romanticising of the past, no obsessive elegising in Ni Dhomhnaill’s work. It is something far more disturbing than innocence or order she wants to recover . . . But as Ni Dhomhnaill makes clear by beginning her book with poems about a pact with death and the fall of Srebrenica, and by using as epigraphs sentences from Moby Dick and Mann’s Doctor Faustus, this is a book about how, once the mermaid came up for air, ‘there was always a certain impediment that always stayed with her’. It is about this ‘certain impediment’ that Ni Dhomhnaill has written such an extraordinary book.’ — Adam Philips, The Observer

Work of the currently best know Irish-language poet, with English translations on facing pages by one of the best known poets in any language or country. Such parallel translations of course give readers an idea of the richness and texture of the less familiar language — of how equivalences may be found — and convey also something of the poetics of both the original and the translator. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill creates a fantastic world of eerie seascapes, mysterious mermaids, mythical landscapes and magic. The poetry owes much to the magic realism of Spanish writers but there is a vein of hard reality running through the poems like Na Murúcha agus Galair Thógálacha (Merfolk and Infectious Diseases). A fascinating collection from two artists in their full maturity.

— Books Ireland

Year Published: 2007 (Reprinted 2011 and 2021)
Details: 168pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 374 2

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