The Forsaken Merman

by Matthew Arnold

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What work occupies the merman's wife in "The Forsaken Merman"?

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In "The Forsaken Merman," the fisherman's wife stays busy working at a loom.

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Matthew Arnold's 1849 poem "The Forsaken Merman" deals with feelings of loss and isolation. Margaret, the merman's human wife, who once lived with him happily beneath the sea, has left him and their children. One day, she heard the bells of a church tolling and leaves to go back to the surface to pray. The merman assumed that she would soon return. However, she remains on the surface to live and work in the seaside town.

After some time, the merman and his children go ashore to retrieve Margaret. They find her busy praying in the little grey church. Although the merman begs his wife to return, she does not even look up from her prayer book. The merman and his children return to the sea, but Margaret stays behind, where she continues to pray inside the church. After they leave, Margaret stays in the town and keeps busy by spinning yarn at a loom and singing joyful songs. There are moments when she puts the spinning aside and gazes out at the sea. However, it is clear that she feels she must stay in the town and work her loom rather than return to a life with her enchanted family under the waves.

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