The Forsaken Merman

The Forsaken Merman summary

Introducing the poet and the Poem

It was Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888), who wrote the poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’. He was not only a famous poet of the Victorian era but the inspector of the government of school, a renowned critic, as well as, a professor of poetry at Oxford University.

‘Thyrsis’, Rugby Chapel’, ‘The Scholar Gypsy’ and ‘Dover Beach’ are some of his well-known poems. In most of his poems, Matthew Arnold presented the materialistic and selfish nature/view of contemporary people.

Elegiac note or note melancholy is another important characteristic of Matthew Arnold’s poetry.

Poem The Forsaken Merman
Poet Matthew Arnold
Type Dramatic Monologue ( Lyrical )
StoryMargeret and her married life with a merman

Coming to Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘The Forsaken Merman, was published in his poetic volume entitled ‘ The Strayed Reveler’ (1849).

The Forsaken Merman

In terms of the poem’s origin; a Danish Ballad ‘A Deceived Merman’ is the source of ‘The Forsaken Merman’ that was newly translated into Romantic Ballads. So far the original ballad ‘A Deceived Merman’ is concerned; there is a familiar legend.

A beautiful mermaid comes from the sea and lives for time with people on the land. In fact, this poem (the original Danish Ballad) inverted the story and of course, Matthew Arnold liked it (the inversion). 


Come, dear children, let us away;
Down and away below!
Now my brothers call from the bay,
Now the great winds shoreward blow,
Now the salt tides seaward flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
Children dear, let us away!
This way, this way!

Call her once before you go—
Call once yet!
In a voice that she will know:
"Margaret! Margaret!"
Children's voices should be dear
(Call once more) to a mother's ear;

Children's voices, wild with pain—
Surely she will come again!
Call her once and come away;
This way, this way!
"Mother dear, we cannot stay!
The wild white horses foam and fret."
Margaret! Margaret!

Come, dear children, come away down;
Call no more!
One last look at the white-wall'd town
And the little grey church on the windy shore,
Then come down!
She will not come though you call all day;
Come away, come away!

Children dear, was it yesterday
We heard the sweet bells over the bay?
In the caverns where we lay,
Through the surf and through the swell,
The far-off sound of a silver bell?
Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep,
Where the winds are all asleep;
Where the spent lights quiver and gleam,
Where the salt weed sways in the stream,
Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round,
Feed in the ooze of their pasture-ground;
Where the sea-snakes coil and twine,
Dry their mail and bask in the brine;
Where great whales come sailing by,
Sail and sail, with unshut eye,
Round the world for ever and aye?
When did music come this way?
Children dear, was it yesterday?

Children dear, was it yesterday
(Call yet once) that she went away?
Once she sate with you and me,
On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea,
And the youngest sate on her knee.
She comb'd its bright hair, and she tended it well,
When down swung the sound of a far-off bell.
She sigh'd, she look'd up through the clear green sea;
She said: "I must go, to my kinsfolk pray
In the little grey church on the shore to-day.
'T will be Easter-time in the world—ah me!
And I lose my poor soul, Merman! here with thee."
I said: "Go up, dear heart, through the waves;
Say thy prayer, and come back to the kind sea-caves!"
She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay.
Children dear, was it yesterday?

Children dear, were we long alone?
"The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan;
Long prayers," I said, "in the world they say;
Come!" I said; and we rose through the surf in the bay.
We went up the beach, by the sandy down
Where the sea-stocks bloom, to the white-wall'd town;
Through the narrow paved streets, where all was still,
To the little grey church on the windy hill.
From the church came a murmur of folk at their prayers,
But we stood without in the cold blowing airs.
We climb'd on the graves, on the stones worn with rains,
And we gazed up the aisle through the small leaded panes.
She sate by the pillar; we saw her clear:
"Margaret, hist! come quick, we are here!
Dear heart," I said, "we are long alone;
The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan."
But, ah, she gave me never a look,
For her eyes were seal'd to the holy book!
Loud prays the priest; shut stands the door.
Come away, children, call no more!
Come away, come down, call no more!

Down, down, down!
Down to the depths of the sea!
She sits at her wheel in the humming town,
Singing most joyfully.
Hark what she sings: "O joy, O joy,
For the humming street, and the child with its toy!
For the priest, and the bell, and the holy well;
For the wheel where I spun,
And the blessed light of the sun!"
And so she sings her fill,
Singing most joyfully,
Till the spindle drops from her hand,
And the whizzing wheel stands still.
She steals to the window, and looks at the sand,
And over the sand at the sea;
And her eyes are set in a stare;
And anon there breaks a sigh,
And anon there drops a tear,
From a sorrow-clouded eye,
And a heart sorrow-laden,
A long, long sigh;
For the cold strange eyes of a little Mermaiden
And the gleam of her golden hair.

Come away, away children
Come children, come down!
The hoarse wind blows coldly;
Lights shine in the town.
She will start from her slumber
When gusts shake the door;
She will hear the winds howling,
Will hear the waves roar.
We shall see, while above us
The waves roar and whirl,
A ceiling of amber,
A pavement of pearl.
Singing: "Here came a mortal,
But faithless was she!
And alone dwell for ever
The kings of the sea."

But, children, at midnight,
When soft the winds blow,
When clear falls the moonlight,
When spring-tides are low;
When sweet airs come seaward
From heaths starr'd with broom,
And high rocks throw mildly
On the blanch'd sands a gloom;
Up the still, glistening beaches,
Up the creeks we will hie,
Over banks of bright seaweed
The ebb-tide leaves dry.
We will gaze, from the sand-hills,
At the white, sleeping town;
At the church on the hill-side—
And then come back down.
Singing: "There dwells a loved one,
But cruel is she!
She left lonely for ever
The kings of the sea."

What Next?

So, after introducing the poet Matthew Arnold and his famous poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’, now, in some of the ongoing paragraphs, its brief summary and analysis will be presented in front of the students/readers.

For convenience, it will be carefully offered in simple language and easy manner so that none of (our) readers would have to face any problems.

“The Forsaken Merman” Summary and Analysis

Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’ is a story of  Margeret and her married life with a merman. Margeret was living a luxurious and comfortable life with her children as well as her husband in his (merman’s) submarine residence.

But, one day she heard the church bell. After hearing that bell, she asked for permission from her husband to go to church. When the merman permitted her, she left her submarine residence and went to the church to offer prayers.

But, at last, Margaret forsook the merman (her husband) as well as her own children also. Matthew Arnold introduced the merman as the speaker of the poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’. He, with his children, was seen on the seashore.

The speaker rehearsed as well as recalled those happy days when all of them (merman, his children, and his wife Margaret) were living in the seawater.

The concluding lines of the ‘The Forsaken Merman’ tell that the merman was ready to return to his residence (sea) as he failed to retrieve his wife. The speaker called (himself) the king of the sea as he became one with the sea as well as its life.

Margeret’s husband in the poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’ was seen in very grief because knew very well that his wife left the submarine residence so as (for) not to come back to it.

His wife’s (all) memory that the speaker had stored came out instinctively. When Margaret left to never come back,(after that) the merman became so sorrowful that anything he saw seemed to be gloomy as well as sad. Consequently, the speaker’s mind responded to all of those scenes quite nervously.

It seems that the poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’ does not offer any other meaning besides the pathetic situation that Matthew Arnold conveye(s) in it. But, one may find (it is probable) some connection in personal terms to the girl whom this great poet/scholar Matthew Arnold had loved as well as lost.

In a broad sense, it can be said that there must be a connection to this poet’s usual melancholy about a modern person as well as his desolation.


The Forsaken Merman‘, a poem by Matthew Arnold, is a pathetic story of Margaret, her husband, and their children. She was happily living with them in the submarine residence. Before leaving the submarine dwelling, Margaret indulged in nurturing as well as caring for her sons.

But sorrow comes in the life of the merman and his children, when one day she hears the church bells and goes to the church with her husband’s permission, (though the merman was expecting that she would come back very soon) she doesn’t return to her residence.

Consequently, the husband and the children come out of the seawater (where they were living) and address (and urge) her to come back. But, she is indifferent and does not respond to them. When the merman is sure that Margaret will not come back, he asks his children to return to their residence. 

In this way, it can be said that Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’ is a sorrowful story of the merman and his children who suffer very much like Margaret, his beloved (wife) and his children’s mother left them (perhaps never to come back).  

The Forsaken Merman FAQs

u003cstrongu003eQues:u003c/strongu003e What is the most forceful theme of the poem u003cemu003eThe Forsaken Merman u003c/emu003eBy Matthew Arnold?

u003cstrongu003eAns:u003c/strongu003e The poem u003cemu003eThe Forsaken Merman u003c/emu003eincorporates ‘the merman’s agony and sorrow as he recounts the loss of his wife’ as its forceful and important theme.

u003cstrongu003eQues:u003c/strongu003e Why does the Merman in Matthew Arnold’s poem grieve ?

u003cstrongu003eAns:u003c/strongu003e When the Merman’s loving human wife heard the church bells at Easter, she at once abandoned him as well as their children, for living on land, among human beings, as well as never to come back to his husband’s residence. Due to this reason the Merman grieves. 

u003cstrongu003eQues:u003c/strongu003e Who is the speaker in u003cemu003eForsaken Merman?u003c/emu003e

u003cstrongu003eAns:u003c/strongu003e The eponymous Merman himself is the speaker in this poem. Here, he speaks to his children in the first person.