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1001 Stories Collection

Forsaken Merman

1001 The Forsaken Merman
Added on 28th August 2020

Author Matthew Arnold
First published 1849
Publisher B. Fellowes, London, UK

A beautiful but heartbreaking narrative poem of the loss of love.


A merman living in a beautiful kingdom under the sea mourns the loss of his human wife, Margaret. After hearing the church bells chime for Easter, she returned to the little white town on the shore, abandoning him and their children, never to return.

Why we chose it

An unusual mermaid story in which it is a human woman who marries and then abandons a merman.

Where it came from

Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888) was an English Victorian poet and critic. He began writing poetry while studying at Oxford, winning the Newdigate Prize for his poem Cromwell (1843). The Forsaken Merman appears in his first volume of poetry, The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems, which was published in 1849 under the anonymous name ‘A.’ The story of a merman who marries a human girl only to be abandoned by her appears in several different cultures, including Danish, German, and several Slavonic countries. Arnold himself did not cite any source for the poem, but some scholars have suggested that he was inspired by the Danish variant of the folktale, as told by either Hans Christian Anderson, or George Borrow.

Where it went next

The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems attracted little notice on publication. Many contemporary critics, including Arnold’s family members, found the poems puzzling, obscure, and distant from modern reality. On the other hand, his contemporary, Algernon Charles Swinburne, greatly praised The Forsaken Merman, for its beauty and lyricism. The Forsaken Merman has remained a point of critical contention ever since, with some arguing it is a success and others a failure. In the 1860s Arnold became primarily a writer of prose, specifically literary, social and religious criticism.

Associated stories

Matthew Arnold wrote several other volumes of poetry and prose. Some of his most famous poems include The Scholar-Gipsy (1853) and Dover Beach (1867).

Added on 28th August 2020

Author Matthew Arnold
First published 1849
Publisher B. Fellowes, London, UK