The Forsaken Merman - Literature Articles
The Forsaken Merman

The Forsaken Merman

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, renowned critic, as well as, 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.

Coming to the Matthew Arnold poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’, it 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). 

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 was 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).  

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