Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The most forceful theme of the poem is the agony of the merman as he recounts the loss of his wife. The reader senses desperation as he urges his children to plead with Margaret to return to them: “Children’s voices should be dear/ (Call once more) to a mother’s ear;/ Children’s voices, wild with pain—/ Surely she will come again!” The merman feels that it is unnatural for her to leave her children. He is so distraught that he is even unsure of how long she has been gone: “She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay./ Children dear, was it yesterday?” His memory of their happy times together increases the pain of his desertion, as he recalls that “Once she sate with you [the children] and me,/ On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea,” but when he pled with her, “she gave me never a look.”

Margaret has been forced to choose between the two worlds, but she has not done so without pain of her own. Although in her singing she tries to keep up her spirits, her mind wanders back to the family she has left behind as she turns from the spinning wheel and looks out to the sea: “And anon there drops a tear/ From a sorrow-clouded eye,/ And a heart sorrow-laden.”

Another theme is the Victorian loss of faith, the result of the conflict of science and religion, which had been developing rapidly through the early part of the century and was later to culminate in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means...

(The entire section is 482 words.)