The Forsaken Merman

by Matthew Arnold

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Describe the undersea setting in "The Forsaken Merman."

Quick answer:

The undersea setting where Margaret lived with her family consists of cool, dimly lit caverns, surrounded by open water where animals swim. The family’s cave contains a golden throne, and the sea floor is covered with pearls. The animals include beasts, snakes, and whales.

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Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Forgotten Merman” features the titular merman as its narrator. Using second-person or direct address, he speaks mainly to his children. Margaret, their human mother, has left to return to living in a village on the land. The main description of the undersea setting where she had lived, and where the narrator and the children still reside, is provided in stanza 5. The speaker describes the caves or caverns in which they lived, which are cool as well as fairly dark because they are distant from the surface light. They are surrounded by various animals, including snakes and whales as well as “beasts” that are not further identified.

Neither does much sound from the surface reach “[s]and-strewn caverns, cool and deep.” The family can barely hear the church bells that had summoned Margaret. The open sea around these caverns is rich in food for the beasts. The speaker’s description evokes grazing terrestrial animals that “[f]eed in the ooze of their pasture-ground,” while the whales resemble sailing ships.

In the next stanza, the speaker mentions a “red gold throne” where Margaret had formerly sat with him and their children. The sea outside the “kind sea caves” is “clear [and] green.” However, once the woman leaves, the sea turns stormy, and the waves are described in stanza 1 as “wild white horses.”

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