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The Deceived Merman (From The Old Danish)

George Borrow

Fair Agnes alone on the sea-shore stood,
Then rose a Merman from out the flood:

“Now, Agnes, hear what I say to thee,
Wilt thou my leman consent to be?”

“O, freely that will I become,
If thou but take me beneath the foam.”

He stopp’d her ears, and he stopp’d her eyes,
And into the ocean he took his prize.

The Merman’s leman was Agnes there,—
She bore him sons and daughters fair:

One day by the cradle she sat and sang,
Then heard she above how the church bells rang:

She went to the Merman, and kiss’d his brow;
“Once more to church I would gladly go.”

“And thou to church once more shalt go,
But come to thy babes back here below.”

He flung his arm her body around,
And he lifted her up unto England’s ground.

Fair Agnes in at the church door stepp’d,
Behind her mother, who sorely wept.

“O Agnes, Agnes, daughter dear!
Where hast thou been this many a year?”

“O, I have been deep, deep under the sea,
And liv’d with the Merman in love and glee.”

“And what for thy honour did he give thee,
When he made thee his leman beneath the sea?”

“He gave me silver, he gave me gold,
And sprigs of coral my hair to hold.”

The Merman up to the church door came;
His eyes they shone like a yellow flame;

His face was white, and his beard was green—
A fairer demon was never seen.

“Now, Agnes, Agnes, list to me,
Thy babes are longing so after thee.”

“I cannot come yet, here must I stay
Until the priest shall have said his say.”

And when the priest had said his say,
She thought with her mother at home she’d stay.

“O Agnes, Agnes, list to me,
Thy babes are sorrowing after thee.”

“Let them sorrow, and sorrow their fill,
But back to them never return I will.”

“Think on them, Agnes, think on them all;
Think on the great one, think on the small.”

“Little, O little, care I for them all,
Or for the great one, or for the small.”

O, bitterly then did the Merman weep;
He hied him back to the foamy deep:

But, often his shrieks and mournful cries,
At midnight’s hour, from thence arise.
Online text © 1998-2014 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From Romantic Ballads translated from the Danish; and Miscellaneous Pieces | Jarrold and Sons, 1913
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