The Forsaken Merman

Original Text: 
Matthew Arnold, The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems (London: B. Fellowes, 1849). B-11 2382 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
1Come, dear children, let us away;
2Down and away below!
3Now my brothers call from the bay,
4Now the great winds shoreward blow,
5Now the salt tides seaward flow;
6Now the wild white horses play,
7Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
8Children dear, let us away!
9This way, this way!
10Call her once before you go--
11Call once yet!
12In a voice that she will know:
13"Margaret! Margaret!"
14Children's voices should be dear
15(Call once more) to a mother's ear;
16Children's voices, wild with pain--
17Surely she will come again!
18Call her once and come away;
19This way, this way!
20"Mother dear, we cannot stay!
21The wild white horses foam and fret."
22Margaret! Margaret!
23Come, dear children, come away down;
24Call no more!
25One last look at the white-wall'd town
26And the little grey church on the windy shore,
27Then come down!
28She will not come though you call all day;
29Come away, come away!
30Children dear, was it yesterday
31We heard the sweet bells over the bay?
32In the caverns where we lay,
33Through the surf and through the swell,
34The far-off sound of a silver bell?
35Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep,
36Where the winds are all asleep;
37Where the spent lights quiver and gleam,
38Where the salt weed sways in the stream,
39Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round,
40Feed in the ooze of their pasture-ground;
41Where the sea-snakes coil and twine,
42Dry their mail and bask in the brine;
43Where great whales come sailing by,
44Sail and sail, with unshut eye,
45Round the world for ever and aye?
46When did music come this way?
47Children dear, was it yesterday?
48Children dear, was it yesterday
49(Call yet once) that she went away?
50Once she sate with you and me,
51On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea,
52And the youngest sate on her knee.
53She comb'd its bright hair, and she tended it well,
54When down swung the sound of a far-off bell.
55She sigh'd, she look'd up through the clear green sea;
56She said: "I must go, to my kinsfolk pray
57In the little grey church on the shore to-day.
58'T will be Easter-time in the world--ah me!
60I said: "Go up, dear heart, through the waves;
61Say thy prayer, and come back to the kind sea-caves!"
62She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay.
63Children dear, was it yesterday?
64     Children dear, were we long alone?
65"The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan;
66Long prayers," I said, "in the world they say;
67Come!" I said; and we rose through the surf in the bay.
68We went up the beach, by the sandy down
69Where the sea-stocks bloom, to the white-wall'd town;
70Through the narrow paved streets, where all was still,
71To the little grey church on the windy hill.
72From the church came a murmur of folk at their prayers,
73But we stood without in the cold blowing airs.
74We climb'd on the graves, on the stones worn with rains,
75And we gazed up the aisle through the small leaded panes.
76She sate by the pillar; we saw her clear:
77"Margaret, hist! come quick, we are here!
78Dear heart," I said, "we are long alone;
79The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan."
80But, ah, she gave me never a look,
81For her eyes were seal'd to the holy book!
82Loud prays the priest; shut stands the door.
83Come away, children, call no more!
84Come away, come down, call no more!
85     Down, down, down!
86Down to the depths of the sea!
87She sits at her wheel in the humming town,
88Singing most joyfully.
89Hark what she sings: "O joy, O joy,
90For the humming street, and the child with its toy!
91For the priest, and the bell, and the holy well;
92For the wheel where I spun,
93And the blessed light of the sun!"
94And so she sings her fill,
95Singing most joyfully,
96Till the spindle drops from her hand,
97And the whizzing wheel stands still.
98She steals to the window, and looks at the sand,
99And over the sand at the sea;
100And her eyes are set in a stare;
101And anon there breaks a sigh,
102And anon there drops a tear,
103From a sorrow-clouded eye,
104And a heart sorrow-laden,
105A long, long sigh;
106For the cold strange eyes of a little Mermaiden
107And the gleam of her golden hair.
108     Come away, away children
109Come children, come down!
110The hoarse wind blows coldly;
111Lights shine in the town.
112She will start from her slumber
113When gusts shake the door;
114She will hear the winds howling,
115Will hear the waves roar.
116We shall see, while above us
117The waves roar and whirl,
118A ceiling of amber,
119A pavement of pearl.
120Singing: "Here came a mortal,
121But faithless was she!
122And alone dwell for ever
123The kings of the sea."
124But, children, at midnight,
125When soft the winds blow,
126When clear falls the moonlight,
127When spring-tides are low;
128When sweet airs come seaward
129From heaths starr'd with broom,
130And high rocks throw mildly
131On the blanch'd sands a gloom;
132Up the still, glistening beaches,
133Up the creeks we will hie,
134Over banks of bright seaweed
135The ebb-tide leaves dry.
136We will gaze, from the sand-hills,
137At the white, sleeping town;
138At the church on the hill-side--
139And then come back down.
140Singing: "There dwells a loved one,
141But cruel is she!
142She left lonely for ever
143The kings of the sea."

Notes

59] I love my poor soul: In popular belief the human being who went to live with a mermaid or a merman lost his or her soul and became as one of these seafolk, who had no souls. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1849
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.197.