In the original, mythological story, Midas was a King who was given a wish by the god, Dionysus. He asked that he should be able to turn things into gold with a touch. At first this was wonderful, but then he realised that it also applied to food and drink, and to living things. Eventually he went back to Dionysus and begged him to take the golden touch away. Dionysus granted his wish and told him to bathe in a certain river, after which Midas returned to normal.
The happy ending does not happen in the poem, which is narrated by Midas’ wife. The first she knows about his new power, is described in the first stanza of the poem.
It begins in a deliberately prosaic way, establishing the season as Autumn (the season of ripeness and changing colours) and the time of day as dusk, while the narrator prepares dinner in the kitchen. The kitchen is personified, "its steamy breath/ gently blanching the windows". The word ‘blanching’ links it to the cooking of the vegetables as well as to the white misting on the glass. The atmosphere is calm, established by "I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun/to unwind" with its rhyming wordplay. The feeling is continued with the soothing image of wiping the misted window ‘like a brow’. The tone alters with the first sight of Midas who is ‘snapping a twig’.
The image that begins the second stanza is drawn out, just as the onlooker’s gaze struggles to peer through the fading light down the length of the garden, leading the audience into the caesura that follows "that twig in his hand was gold." The idea of Autumn is reinforced by the name of the pear variety on the tree and the shape of the fruit is compared to a light bulb, the single word ‘On.’ making an impact as the reader realises that the pear, too, is gold. The narrator’s first thought is the pragmatic idea that her husband is putting lights in the tree, but it is in the form of a question, indicating her uncertainty.
Duffy’s description of Midas’s progress into the house is a mixture of the down-to-earth and the exotic, representing the confusion in the narrator’s mind and her struggle to come to terms with what is happening. Following the transformation of the doorknobs the reader is given an image of what happened when ‘he drew the blinds’ as the narrator is suddenly taken back to her schooldays and her history teacher, Miss Macready, describing the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This was a meeting, in 1520, between Henry VIII and Francis I of France, when each King tried to outdo the other in the splendour of their tents, clothes and entertainments. Cloth of Gold is silk fabric shot through with gold thread. Duffy makes this connection with one of her jokey rhymew "He drew the blinds. You know the mind;"
Midas is also connected with the image when he…