The Mermaid

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Leaving the sea, the pale moon lights the strand.
  Tracing old runes, a youth inscribes the sand.
  And by the rune-ring waits a woman fair,
  Down to her feet extends her dripping hair.

  Woven of lustrous pearls her robes appear,
  Thin as the air and as the water clear.
  Lifting her veil with milk-white hand she shows
  Eyes in whose deeps a deadly fire glows.

  Blue are her eyes: she looks upon him--bound,
  As by a spell, he views their gulf profound.
  Heaven and death are there: in his desire,
  He feels the chill of ice, the heat of fire.

  Graciously smiling, now she whispers low:--
  "The runes are dark, would you their meaning know?
  Follow! my dwelling is as dark and deep;
  You, you alone, its treasure vast shall keep!"

  "Where is your dwelling, charming maid, now say!"
  "Built on a coral island far away,
  Crystalline, golden, floats that castle free,
  Meet for a lovely daughter of the sea!"

  Still he delays and muses, on the strand;
  Now the alluring maiden grasps his hand.
  "Ah! Do you tremble, you who were so bold?"
  "Yes, for the heaving breakers are so cold!"

  "Let not the mounting waves your spirit change!
  Take, as a charm, my ring with sea-runes strange.
  Here is my crown of water-lilies white,
  Here is my harp, with human bones bedight."

  *  *  *  *  *

  "What say my Father and my Mother dear?
  What says my God, who bends from heaven to hear?"
  "Father and Mother in the churchyard lie.
  As for thy God, he deigns not to reply."

  Blithely she dances on the pearl-strewn sand,
  Smiting the bone-harp with her graceful hand.
  Fair is her bosom, through her thin robe seen,
  White as a swan beheld through rushes green,

  "Follow me, youth! through ocean deeps we'll rove;
  There is my castle in its coral grove;
  There the red branches purple shadows throw,
  There the green waves, like grass, sway to and fro,

  *  *  *  *  *

  "I have a thousand sisters; none so fair.
  He whom I wed receives my sceptre rare.
  Wisdom occult my mother will impart.
  Granting his slightest wish, I'll cheer his heart."

  *  *  *  *  *

  "Heaven and earth to win you I abjure!
  Child of the ocean, is your promise sure?"
  "Heaven and earth abjuring, great's your gain,
  Throned with the ancient gods, a king to reign!"

  Lo, as she speaks, a thousand starlights gleam,
  Lighted for Heaven's Christmas day they seem.
  Sighing, he swears the oath,--the die is cast;
  Into the mermaid's arms he sinks at last.

  *  *  *  *  *

  High on the shore the rushing waves roll in.
  "Why does the color vary on your skin?
  What! From your waist a fish's tail depends!"
  "Worn for the dances of my sea-maid friends."

  High overhead, the stars, like torches, burn:
  "Haste! to my golden castle I return.
  Save me, ye runes!"--"Yes, try them now; they fail.
  Pupil of _heathen_ men, my spells prevail!"

  Proudly she turns; her sceptre strikes the wave,
  Roaring, it parts; the ocean yawns, a grave.
  Mermaid and youth go down; the gulf is deep.
  Over their heads the surging waters sweep.

  Often, on moonlight nights, when bluebells ring,
  When for their sports the elves are gathering,
  Out of the waves the youth appears, and plays
  Tunes that are merry, mournful, like his days.

© Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom