Friday, 8 June 2012

Littoral lullaby

My putative novel has reached the traditional 15000 word abandonment point so I spent a week writing a poem about a mermaid.  Not your standard lobster-befriending, clamshell-bra-wearing disneyfication but The Mermaid from Dorset folklore.  


In Dorset folklore, The Mermaid is a fearsome creature who can control the waves and is often held responsible for deaths at sea. Superstitious fisherfolk will throw some of their catch back in the water to appease her. This practice is known as paying the Mermaid's share.


The Mermaid's Share


On clifftop sands,
A young girl stands,
A spyglass to her eye.
With hopeful gaze,
She softly prays
Her da's ship will come by.


Beyond the Fleet,
Where two seas meet
Around the Portland Bill,
The sharkskin breeze
Breeds lethal seas
That slaughter sailors still.


A dangerous place,
The Portland Race
Can sink a ship at will.
One trawler braves
The fearsome waves,
Her lobster pots to fill.


And on her bow,
The Captain proud
Recalls his daughter's plea:
"Don't sail today,
Oh Da please stay,
Don't go no more to sea!


Last night I dreamt 
The waters rent
And pulled your trawler down.
And from the main
The Mermaid came
And sang and watched you drown."


"Why, Molly dear
You need not fear!"
The Captain deftly lied.
"Since I was three
I've worked the sea,
Poseidon's on my side.


I've trawled the deep,
Seen Dolphin's leap,
I've paid the Mermaid's share!
This evening, if
You scale the cliff
I'll wave to you up there."


Upon the cliff,
A girl stands with
A spyglass at her side.
She shades her gaze
From low sun rays
That light the evening tide.


With squinting eyes,
A ship she spies
In peril on the sea.
Her raised spyglass
Reveals the mast
And rudder broken free.


The crew of two
Kick off their shoes
And dive into the sea.
Their lives to save
As rising waves
The old ship's fate decree.


The Captain now
Grips hold the bow
And offers up a prayer.
He knows their fate
But it's too late
To pay the Mermaid's share.


With deafening crash,
White horses dash
The Captain overboard.
He gasps for breath
And prays that Death
Comes quickly for them all.


The briny cold
Grasps at his soul,
No help can hear his screams.
A haunting sound 
Wails to the drowned,
A song from Mermaid dreams:


"I sing to you,
A captain who
Ignored me once before.
You cast your net,
Repay the debt 
You owe to sea and shore.


You trawled the sea
Since you were three,
You stole my bounty fair!
But in your greed
You saw no need
To pay the Mermaid's share.


You sailors three,
You lied to me
And lied to kin on shore.
And for that sin,
With me you'll swim
Down here forever more!"


On clifftop steep,
A young girl weeps
For loss beyond repair.
And vows her sons,
In years to come,
Will pay the Mermaid's share.  




5 comments:

  1. Love it. Steve

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  2. This is very good. It captures the soft and simple language of the local folk song, whilst managing to pack in loads of colorful imagery. This is a testament to the fact writing doesn't always have to be wordy to be good. Not the most original card in the pack, but none the less very enjoyable.

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  3. Something a bit more yokel:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ak4cSiTOq9k

    And my favourite song that uses the Mermaid motif in the same manner as you've used it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8g6fgMUKDI

    Which I think is from your part of the country and might even have served as part of your inspiration for this work.

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  4. I really like the second link!

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  5. Dear Greg I liked The Mermaid's Share very much. It's like one of the old ballads, rhythmical and a strong narrative and well chosen words. Andree

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