Tennyson's Poems

The Mermaid

First printed in 1830.


Who would be

A mermaid fair,

Singing alone,

Combing her hair

Under the sea,

In a golden curl

With a comb of pearl,

On a throne?


I would be a mermaid fair;

I would sing to myself the whole of the day;

With a comb of pearl I would comb my hair;

And still as I comb'd I would sing and say,

"Who is it loves me? who loves not me?"

I would comb my hair till my ringlets would fall,

Low adown, low adown,

From under my starry sea-bud crown

Low adown and around,

And I should look like a fountain of gold

Springing alone

With a shrill inner sound,

Over the throne

In the midst of the hall;

Till that [1] great sea-snake under the sea

From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps

Would slowly trail himself sevenfold

Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate

With his large calm eyes for the love of me.

And all the mermen under the sea

Would feel their [2] immortality

Die in their hearts for the love of me.


But at night I would wander away, away,

I would fling on each side my low-flowing locks,

And lightly vault from the throne and play

With the mermen in and out of the rocks;

We would run to and fro, and hide and seek,

On the broad sea-wolds in the [1] crimson shells,

Whose silvery spikes are nighest the sea.

But if any came near I would call, and shriek,

And adown the steep like a wave I would leap

From the diamond-ledges that jut from the dells;

For I would not be kiss'd [2] by all who would list,

Of the bold merry mermen under the sea;

They would sue me, and woo me, and flatter me,

In the purple twilights under the sea;

But the king of them all would carry me,

Woo me, and win me, and marry me,

In the branching jaspers under the sea;

Then all the dry pied things that be

In the hueless mosses under the sea

Would curl round my silver feet silently,

All looking up for the love of me.

And if I should carol aloud, from aloft

All things that are forked, and horned, and soft

Would lean out from the hollow sphere of the sea,

All looking down for the love of me.

[Footnote 1: Till 1857. The.]

[Footnote 2: Till 1857. The.]

[Footnote 3: 1830. 'I the. So till 1853.]

[Footnote 4: 1830 Kist.]