A mermaid by John William Waterhouse
For more on Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
see Wikipedia here.
m e r m a i d
m a r k m u r p h y
She came out of the southern ocean
steeped in mystery. Beautiful. Reckless as sunlight
in the winter surf, bold as morning breaking
over sand and dunes and the treeless downs.
And when the first men spied her naked
on the beech, they cried as children.
And when the women first saw her in the lanes and ginnels
of the old village, they bolted their doors
as if an ill wind were blowing. No one knew why she came
that December morning after a lifetime of centuries
alone. No one cared. But our lady of the deep
had awoken from her dreams in the bleak mid-winter
and came ashore innocent as day breaking
over the sleepy community. And no one could turn back time.
How many men had dreamt of such a creature
emerging as she did with her raven hair
tossed about her loving breasts? Of course,
it would not be long now before the doors opened
and the warmth of firelight would warm her through.
And so it began. The good men of the village
gave her refuge, but it was not long before asylum turned
to torment. Days and nights passed.
After the men had taken what they wanted
as though the taking was their given right,
they cast her out onto the cobbled walkway
like bundled flesh not fit for dogs, and when the women saw
what the men-folk had done, they rushed to condemn
our lady as a ‘wanton’ and ‘fallen’ woman.
In that time of miracles, the villagers gathered
to cast their stones at the sad figure of a mermaid drowning
in the abounding air. Her cries could not be heard
above the crashing waves. No one and nothing could save her.