This poem analysis focuses on the poem ‘The Forsaken Merman’ by the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold, and it is divided into three parts – context, rhyme scheme of the forsaken merman and rhetorical devices, and deep interpretation of the forsaken merman.
Analysis and Critical Appreciation of The Forsaken Merman
Context: ‘The Forsaken Merman’ was published in 1849, as part of the collection of poems entitled The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems. This was Arnold’s first published work, and thus ‘The Forsaken Merman’ is an early work. Arnold is best known for his accurate portrayals of Victorian life and times, and for his meditations on the universal human condition. This poem does not fit into either of these moulds, and can be considered an atypical poem of Arnold’s for that reason.
However, his early poetry shows that he was a wonderful teller of tales, and often wrote about characters that seemed special to him. This was certainly what made up the subject matter of most of the poems in The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems. In that sense then, ‘The Forsaken Merman’ is not so atypical after all. However, this poem does exist in a class of its own, for it is the most touching and soul-stirring of all the stories Arnold has ever chosen to tell.
Rhyme Scheme of the Forsaken Merman and Rhetorical Devices: Arnold does not follow any consistent rhyme scheme throughout the ten stanzas of ‘The Forsaken Merman’. However, this does not lessen his poetic craft and skill of versification in any way, shape or form. This poem explanation cannot help but mention how easily identifiable the end rhymes are in this poem. In fact, this abundance of end rhymes gives the poem a light and cheerful tone that belies its subject matter. The content that this form has to support is quite melancholy. However, this apparent mismatch is not grating on the ears or on the mind. It just comes as a surprise – one that actually heightens one’s pleasure of reading the poem.
This part of the poem analysis would also remain incomplete if no mention were made of Arnold’s use of a major rhetorical device throughout the length of ‘The Forsaken Merman’ – that of apostrophe. Apostrophe (which Arnold uses in very many of his poems) is a mode of address using the first person with which poets often summon up the image of a listener in their individual poems. This entire poem is addressed by the merman to his children, as he asks them alternately to call out to their mother, and to return to their dwelling at the bottom of the sea.
The Forsaken Merman Interpretation
This part of the poem explanation focuses on how the seemingly simple story behind ‘The Forsaken Merman’ is actually multi-layered. No matter what Arnold writes he cannot avoid marking them with some aspect of the Victorian era in which he lived, either explicitly or implicitly. ‘The Forsaken Merman’ is of the second kind. Arnold was a man who put more faith on science that he did on Christianity. In this poem, the merman’s existence at the depths of the sea, away from the human township, is meant to be a symbol for an earlier, pagan lifestyle in which life was led peacefully without the interference of any organized religion. The sound of the bells is what the merman identifies as having prompted his wife to depart- a classical example of symbolism in the forsaken merman.
This is the kind of interference that the pagan world does well without. But upon hearing the bells, the wife rushes to church – to the realm of Christianity, where people’s eyes are glued to the Bible without registering anything or anyone who happens to be outside (perhaps this is a literalization of the expression ‘blind faith’), and where the doors remain closed to non-believers (perhaps this is Arnold’s way of saying that Christianity is, in fact, not very tolerable towards other faiths and beliefs, as he had seen in the Church’s attitude to Darwin’s theory of evolution).
These two worlds are so separated from one another that by going on land once, his wife will never again be able to return to the caverns of the sea, where the merman and their children live. Once the world has accepted Christianity, it can no longer go back to the simple pagan ways. Read in this way, ‘The Forsaken Merman’ unlocks a different dimension to itself – as Arnold’s critique of Christianity, and the adverse effects that he believed it was having on people in the Victorian era. Hope you enjoyed reading the Forsaken Merman Analysis by Matthew Arnold. Here we have covered the summary of the forsaken merman if you’re interested to read that as well.
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