The Forsaken Merman

by Matthew Arnold

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For what reason did the wife leave the merman in the poem "The Forsaken Merman"?

In "The Forsaken Merman" the merman's wife left him because she heard the church bells tolling for Easter and decided that she must go and pray with her family.

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In Matthew Arnold's poem "The Forsaken Merman," the speaker addresses his children, who are calling out to their mother, Margaret. Margaret lived with the merman and their children under their sea, and their life seemed to be a happy one. However, she heard the church bells tolling from the land and was reminded that it was Easter. She said that she had to go to the church to pray with her family, as she was losing her soul living under the sea with the merman.

The merman told his wife that she should go to church and then come back to her family. She went, but did not return, leaving the merman pining for his wife and the children for their mother. Since the poem is in the merman's voice, Margaret's feelings and motivations are never entirely clear, though it is evident that she is emotionally torn between land and sea. The reader does not know whether she always intended to stay on the land once she reached it or if she was persuaded to do so once she arrived. It is also uncertain whether her motives were primarily religious or secular—whether she thought she was losing her immortal soul by staying away from church or if she was made unhappy by separation from her own people.

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