There are several important allusions in the poem. Most significantly, the title—and by extension the poem as a whole—alludes to the mythological King Midas, a figure in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. King Midas was granted a wish that everything he touched would turn to gold. In the original story, he regretted this wish when he realized that he could neither eat nor drink, and Dionysus released him from the wish by having him bathe in a river.
The poem, however, changes the way in which this story is told. The primary focus of the poem is not the king—or, in this case, Mr. Midas— but his wife. The allusion, then, serves to point out how women’s perspectives were left out of the original myth. It provides a familiar framework that the poem reimagines within a contemporary context and from Mrs. Midas’s point of view.
Within the poem, the speaker also makes a number of allusions. Soon after her husband has made his wish, when she watches him close the curtains, she says:
You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
This first allusion, the Field of the Cloth of Gold, refers to 1520 meeting between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France; both kings brought a huge amount of gold fabric to the summit to impress each other. The “Field of the Cloth of Gold” is also the name of a painting depicting this meeting. That the speaker refers to a story about Henry VIII is particularly important. Henry VIII is known for being excessive, violent, and self-interested; this particular allusion then, subtly aligns Mr. Midas with these qualities.
The allusion to “Miss Macready” contrasts with the first allusion in that it is less directly clear. The name could allude to the character Sharon Macready, a figure in a British television series, The Champions, that aired in the 1960s; the character had notable gold-colored hair. However, since the speaker refers to Miss Macready, this could be a private reference; perhaps the speaker is alluding to a schoolteacher, Miss Macready, who taught her about the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Either way, the speaker illustrates that this is how “the mind” works—by connecting present experience to past experience, and to stories and history that one has been taught.
Later, the speaker says that her husband is “turning the spare room / into the tomb of Tutankhamun.” Here, the speaker alludes to King Tutankhamun, or King Tut, a pharaoh of ancient Egypt whose tomb, which contained a huge amount of gold, was discovered in 1922. The reference works comically here, but it is also symbolically important, since the speaker implies that her husband is creating his own tomb, burying himself in gold that will ultimately be worthless to him.
Finally, at the end of the poem, the speaker says that when she visited her husband in the remote place where he has gone to live, he is “thin / delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan / from the woods.” Pan was a Greek god, identified with forests and wild areas, who was depicted as playing a flute. This allusion is humorous, since it shows that Mr. Midas, based on the mythological King, now imagines that he actually inhabits this mythological world, since he believes he can hear another figure from myths. It also, though, highlights how far Mr. Midas has departed from his own reality.
Importantly, all of these allusions show both the speaker and her husband thinking about their situation through the vocabulary of cultural stories, myths, and narratives, ranging from history, to pop culture, to mythology. In this way, the poem implies that myths and stories play a powerful role in shaping the way the speaker and her husband—and by extension, readers as well—see and understand the world.