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The mermaid is one of the most popular figures in world folklore. Her characteristic appearance is as a nubile young girl, with long hair and a fish tail, carrying a comb and a mirror. Unlike the other part-human, part-animal creatures of myth and folklore, mermaids have been the object of many sightings up to the present day; it is as if there is a desire to prove the reality of mermaids, which makes them closer to creatures such as the Loch Ness monster and the Yeti than to centaurs and sirens. Another expression of this desire to believe can be found in the many fake mermaids, usually made of the upper torso of a monkey and the tail of a salmon, which have been exhibited in fairs and circuses. In the age of trade and exploration, seeing a mermaid was an almost essential part of travelling to new worlds; Christopher Columbus saw three off Haiti, Sir Richard Whitburne sighted one when discovering Newfoundland in 1610, and Henry Hudson's crew saw a mermaid off Nova Zembla in 1625. In each case, the surviving accounts consciously compare what has been seen with the dominant images in art — Columbus finding his mermaids less pretty and more masculine than he expected. The most famous mermaid to have been captured, the ‘mermaid of Amboina’, was found off the coast of Borneo in the eighteenth century and is said to have lived in captivity for four days. She refused to eat, and made plaintive sounds like those of a mouse. The account given of these events in 1754 suggested that dead mermaids were never found because their flesh rots particularly rapidly.
Where do the myths of mermaids come from? Somewhere in the later Middle Ages, the fish-woman mermaid supplanted the bird-woman siren as the creature believed to lure sailors astray, although in many languages words based on ‘siren’ continued to be used for the fish-woman. The shift to fish-women as the danger facing mariners may be related to an increasing ability to travel to the open sea, where mermaids live, out of sight of the coastal rocks where sirens had been thought to perch. Both sirens and mermaids have musical talents; bird-sirens sing and play the pipes and the lyre, whereas mermaids rely on their voices to entice sailors to their death. Mermaids can raise and calm storms at will and, like the Sphinx, they can trap men with questions and riddles. In nineteenth-century Greek folklore, sailors in the Black Sea may meet the fish-woman Gorgona, who asks, ‘Does Alexander live?’ If they do not give the correct answer, ‘He lives and rules the world’, Gorgona will raise a storm and kill all aboard.
Mermaids combine the beauty of a young girl with a repulsive, fishy lower body. Physically, the problem this poses is how the men whom they target are supposed to have sexual intercourse with them. Some medieval representations get around this problem by showing the mermaid with a forked tail, but perhaps the whole point about the mermaid is that she is sexually unattainable except through death. As popular songs of the nineteenth century remind us, a man who marries a mermaid can never leave her, as there is no divorce court ‘at the bottom of the deep blue sea’. An unusual solution to the problem of the sexual availability of mermaids is found in Magritte's Collective Invention (1935), which shows a beached mermaid with the upper half of a fish and the lower half of a woman. A related problem is how mermaids themselves reproduce; male mer-people, or tritons, are shown in art, particularly in the Renaissance, but again they may miss the point. Matthew Arnold's poem The Forsaken Merman (1849) is a rare example of the treatment of mermen in literature; it reverses the common pattern of a mortal man loving a mermaid but being deserted by her, to imagine a mortal woman being called back from the mer-world by the distant sound of church bells.
Modern literary representations of the mermaid are dominated by the influential Little Mermaid of Hans Christian Anderson. Here the mer-world is a systematic inversion of our own, in which not birds, but fish, fly in through open windows. Rather than causing shipwrecks, the little mermaid saves the life of a shipwrecked prince, then makes a bargain with the sea-witch, exchanging her tongue for a pair of human legs. Every step she takes causes her terrible pain, and her feet bleed. Unable to win the love of the prince without her voice, she rejects the chance to kill him and thus return to her life as a mermaid, but instead dies when he marries someone else. Feminist interpretations of this story suggest that the little mermaid's surrender of the power to speak in order to enter the prince's world is an image of women giving up their own voices if they are to be accepted within patriarchy. Anderson's own message was that, by her love for the prince, the mermaid gained the chance of winning the immortal soul she most craved.
THE MERMAID’S TWIN SISTER
Every Sunday, after Mama, Daddy, and me come back from church and eat lunch, we pack up the car and go to Maracas Beach. At the beach we find a good spot between two coconut trees and lay out the towels. Then Mama sits and reads a book and daddy and me carry the rubber raft down to the water and pretend we are sailing for a new island.
But one Sunday of the year we never ever go to the beach, and that is Easter Sunday. In fact, nobody I know goes to the beach on that Sunday. We go to church and then come back home and eat a big lunch, but we don’t go anything else for the rest of the day. All we do is sit on the porch and watch the sun set. Every Easter I asked Mama why we can’t go to the beach like other Sundays. But she would only shake her head and say, "Because I say so."
Then this Easter she told me why. She said, "Amber, if you swim in de sea on Easter, you go turn into a mermaid and you go never come back." I could see from her face that she wasn’t joking.
When I asked Tantie about it later, she nodded her head. "Your mama didn’t tell you before, cause she ’fraid you go want to try it and see yourself. But is true, and those mermaids never come back from de sea."
"But Tantie, who all yuh know went swimming and turn into a mermaid?"
Tantie gave me a look that say, "You go doubt me?" I glanced away. But I was feeling doubtful. I mean it wasn’t like I ever hear Tantie or Mama say they saw a mermaid. And I sure never did see one. But I didn’t say another word. And Tantie went on inside the house to talk to Mama, leaving me outside watching the sun go down and wondering what would really happen if I went swimming on Easter Sunday.
A few days later, Tantie came over and brought a friend with her: Her eyes were gray and quiet like the early morning mists that rise off the sea in the rainy season. And her skin was smooth and bright like polished stones. She had long, black hair that wrapped around her shoulders like a pair of arms.
"Amber," said Tantie, "this is my good friend, Miss Pascal. We known each other since we both younger than you." I smiled at Miss Pascal and kissed her cheek. But I was wondering if I had heard right. This woman couldn’t have grown up with Tantie. She was much younger than my mama. But when she said hallo, her voice was crackly like dried coconut tree branches.
Tantie and Miss Pascal stayed for the whole afternoon. Mama brought out a tray with tall glasses of mauby and a plate of currant rolls and sipping the spicy coldness. Then the sun starter going down and the crickets began singing. Tantie and Miss Pascal were talking about old times. Mama picked up some sewing from her basket. And I sat there watching as people passed by on the street.
Then I heard Miss Pascal say softly to Tantie, "I don’t know how long Tilly go stay with them mermaids. Been over fifty years now." Well, I didn’t understand that at all. I kept real quite and wished those crickets would hush up so I could hear.
"You know," Miss Pascal went on, "I always wonder what she doing with those mermaids all day long. Delphine, you think they having a good time down there?"
Well, I could feel, more than see, Tantie shrug her shoulders. "I don’t know, Jill. But Tilly always loved de sea more than all of us, so she bound to be happy there."
Well, I couldn’t take it no more. I turned around so that Tantie could see I was listening to Them. I was doping she would tell me who Tilly and the mermaids were before I burst from not knowing. Tantie looked at me real seriously and said, "You want to know what happen?"
I nodded my head and sat down fast between their chairs before she could change her mind. I waited for Tantie to tell the story, but it was Miss Pascal who starter to speck. "I was there," she said, "when my twin sister Tilly turn into a mermaid."
"What?" I shouted. "Your sister is a mermaid?"
Tantie put a hand on my shoulder. I sat back and tried to control the trembling that was taking over my body.
Miss Pascal started her story again. "Fifty years ago, me and my twin sister Tilly were twenty years old." But I gasped out loud. Something terrible was happening here. Miss Pascal was a young woman! "Miss Pascal, you not seventy years old," I wailed. Tantie patted my arm and kept her hand there. I got quite. "Me and Tilly were exactly alike," said Miss Pascal. "We looked de same. We walked de same, and we dressed de same. We even liked de same things. More than anything else, we loved de sea. Every day when we were little girls, we would go down to de sea and count shells or make rafts from fallen tree branches and seaweed ropes. When we got older, we would go to the sea after work and swim. We swam like fish far, far out in the sea."
Miss Pascal stopped and took a deep breath. Tantie handed her the glass of mauby. I was going to ask a question, but Tantie pressed on my arm, so I kept quiet. Then Miss Pascal went on. "I think Tilly began liking de sea even more than me. She never wanted to do anything else but float over the waves or dive deep down and touch de bottom. I started liking other things besides the sea. And sometimes I just wanted to read a book instead of going to de sea. But Tilly went every day.
Then one Easter Sunday, when no one goes swimming ever, Tilly decided she would go. "Tilly" I begged, "don’t go today. You know no one supposed to go swimming on Easter." But she didn’t listen to me. She went down to San Souci, which right next to where we lived in Toco, and she waded far, far out. I followed Tilly to san Souci and stood on a rock to watch her because I did not know what else to do. De tide was out and for a long way de water only came to Tilly’s knees. Then she was so far out that I could barely see her. I watched her tiny body dancing with de waves. I was hoping she would see she was swimming on Easter.
But Tilly just kept on dancing with de waves, waving her arms in de air like a water fairy. I shaded my eyes from de sun and watched as hard as I could. But then I couldn’t see her anymore. I took off my Sunday dress and waded in."
"Miss Pascal" I interrupted, "you went swimming on Easter Sunday too? And you not a mermaid!" I gave Tantie a look as if to say, "See?"
"Miss Pascal not finish, Amber," said Tantie.
Miss Pascal took another sip of mauby. I could see she was having a hard time telling this story, so I reached up and put my hand on her knee. "Is okay. You don’t have to finish de story," I said. Although I was dying to find out what happen next.
Miss Pascal shook her head. "NO, de rest of de story is de most important.
I swam out to where Tilly had been. But she was gone. I dove beneath de waves and looked for her. I shouted her name. I swam up and down and all around for a long time until I was so tired, I didn’t think I could ever swim back in. I turned on my back to float and rest and think what to do. And that’s when I saw her.
"Tilly?" I called softly. "Is that you, Tilly? I was whispering because my voice was hoarse from shouting. But she didn’t answer. She swam in front of me, pulling my long hair gently so I drifted behind her. She was heading toward the shore. And she swam quick like a fish, slicing through de water even smoother than she ever had before.
And when we got to the shallows, she let go my hair and whispered in a voice that sounded like a cloud floating on the sea. "They don’t know it’s two of us. So go now and be my earth self, and I’ll be your water self." Before I could answer, she turned fast and swam away. And all I could see was a long, beautiful fish slicing de waves."
Miss Pascal stopped talking and picked up her mauby glass again. I sat on the floor and not a word could come out my mouth. Tantie and Mama didn’t say anything either.
Then far off in the clear evening air, I heard the happy notes of a steel band playing. We sat and listened until it stopped. The stars had come out bright in the dark sky, and Miss Pascal sat glowing in starlight.
"Till never came back," she said softly, looking right at me. "And I never grow old."
Daddy came home soon after that and drove Miss Pascal home. I stayed outside on the Porch with Tantie, feeling the night’s sweet coolness all around me.
"Amber," Tantie said in a soft voice, "Miss Pascal is de same way for the past fifty years. She look de same now as when she and Tilly went swimming on that Easter Sunday. And she say de only reason she didn’t turn into a mermaid was because de sea was confused. It didn’t know was two of them. So Miss Pascal got away. But she knows the truth of swimming on Easter Sunday, and she wanted to tell you herself."
"But how she could look the same after all these years, Tantie?" I asked.
Tantie shrugged. "I en know, chile, but it have something to do with her twin sister, Tilly."
"Maybe she want to stay the same so Tilly would recognize her if she came back from the sea" I suggested
"Maybe," said Tantie. And both of us got quiet with our own thoughts. I know I go never ask to go swimming on Easter Sunday again.
There was a beautiful woman whose husband was a sailor. He frequently left her for long periods while he was at sea.
When the sailor returned from an exceptionally long trip he found his wife gone and his home empty. His wife had attracted the attentions of a king who begged her to be his lover.
After some time the king became tired of her and told her to return to her husband. He, on his part, was angry at his wife's infidelity and decided to kill her.
The next time he took to sea he brought his wife with him. When they were far from shore he threw her overboard and she sank to the bottom. The sailor returned to shore thinking he would never see his wife again.
Underwater, the beautiful wife was found by the Sirens of the sea. They took her to their palace and with their magic brought about a mermaid transformation. A creature of the land became a Siren. She learned to sing the Siren songs that enchant men. She learned to dance the Siren dances and came to enjoy her new life under the sea. She was often moody, however, and missed her husband.
On land, the sailor began to regret his decision. He came to rue the day he had tossed his wife into the sea. But she was dead, what could he do now?
One day the sea wife was singing with the other Sirens as a ship passed. Imagine her surprise when the man who jumped into the sea was her husband! Craftily, she hid him from the other Sirens.
While the Sirens slept she brought her husband to the surface of the sea. In the vicinity there was a large ship and she had her husband call to the sailors on it.
The Siren disappeared when they took him aboard. The sailors thought he was raving when he talked about his wife who was now a Siren.
Returning to land the husband located a wise fairy. He asked her how he might rescue his wife from the Sirens. The fairy told him that she would rescue his wife if he could get for her a certain flower that is hidden in the Siren's palace.
At sea again, the man called to his wife from the bow of his ship. When she appeared he told her about the fairy and what she needed to release her from the Sirens.
"I know this flower, it grows in the Sirens' palace. The Sirens stole it from the fairies and if ever it is returned all the Sirens will die."
"To get it we must trick them", she continued. "Return to land and take all the money you have in the world. Sell everything you have of any value to get more money. Use this money to buy as many diamonds and jewels as you can find."
"Come back here with the jewels strewn about your ship. The Sirens will tempt you with their song but do not listen to it. Sail far from here and they will follow you. While they are away I will obtain the flower."
The plan worked as the beautiful Siren wife had said. The jewels lured the Sirens away from the palace and she plucked the flower.
Her husband saw a great jet of water come out of the sea. At the top was his wife and the fairy riding on a broom with the flower. The fairy returned her to her husband and they lived together happily till the end of their days.
Hope u enjoyed !
A Mermaid by John William Waterhouse
The village of Zennor lies upon the windward coast of Cornwall. The houses cling to the hillside as if hung there by the wind. Waves still lick the ledges in the coves, and a few fishermen still set out to sea in their boats.
In times past, the sea was both the beginning and the end for the folk of Zennor. It gave them fish for food and fish for sale, and made a wavy road to row from town to town. Hours were reckoned not by clocks but by the ebb and flow of the tide, and months and years ticked off by the herring runs. The sea took from them, too, and often wild, sudden storms would rise. Then fish and fisherman alike would be lost to an angry sea.
At the end of a good day, when the sea was calm and each boat had returned with its share of fish safely stowed in the hold, the people of Zennor would go up the path to the old church and give thanks. They would pray for a fine catch on the morrow, too. The choir would sing, and after the closing hymn the families would go.
Now, in the choir that sang at Evensong there was a most handsome lad named Mathew Trewella. Not only was Mathew handsome to the eyes, his singing was sweet to the ears as well. His voice pealed out louder than the church bells, and each note rang clear and true. It was always Mathew who sang the closing hymn.
Early one evening, when all the fishing boats bobbed at anchor, and all the fisher families were in church and all the birds at nest, and even the waves rested themselves and came quietly to shore, something moved softly in the twilight. The waves parted without a sound, and, from deep beneath them, some creature rose and climbed out onto a rock, there in the cove of Zennor. It was both a sea creature and a she-creature. For, though it seemed to be a girl, where the girl's legs should have been was the long and silver-shiny tail of a fish. It was a mermaid, one of the daughters of Llyr, king of the ocean, and her name was Morveren.
Morveren sat upon the rock and looked at herself in the quiet water, and then combed all the little crabs and seashells from her long, long hair. As she combed, she listened to the murmur of the waves and wind. And borne on the wind was Mathew's singing.
"What breeze is there that blows such a song?" wondered Morveren. But then the wind died, and Mathew's song with it. The sun disappeared, and Morveren slipped back beneath the water to her home.
The next evening she came again. But not to the rock. This time she swam closer to shore, the better to hear. And once more Mathew's voice carried out to sea, and Morveren listened.
"What bird sings so sweet?" she asked, and she looked all about. But darkness had come, and her eyes saw only shadows.
The next day Morveren came even earlier, and boldly. She floated right up by the fishermen's boats. And when she heard Mathew's voice, she called, "What reed is there that pipes such music?"
There was no answer save the swishing of the water round the skiffs.
Morveren would and must know more about the singing. So she pulled herself up on the shore itself. From there she could see the church and hear the music pouring from its open doors. Nothing would do then but she must peek in and learn for herself who sang so sweetly.
Still, she did not go at once. For, looking behind her, she saw that the tide had begun to ebb and the water pull back from the shore. And she knew that she must go back, too, or be left stranded on the sand like a fish out of water.
So she dived down beneath the waves, down to the dark sea cave where she lived with her father the king. And there she told Llyr what she had heard.
Llyr was so old he appeared to be carved of driftwood, and his hair floated out tangled and green, like seaweed. At Morveren's words, he shook that massive head from side to side.
"To hear is enough, my child. To see is too much."
"I must go, Father," she pleaded, "for the music is magic."
"Nay," he answered. "The music is man-made, and it comes from a man's mouth. We people of the sea do not walk on the land of men."
A tear, larger than an ocean pearl, fell from Morveren's eye. "Then surely I may die from the wanting down here."
Llyr sighed, and his sigh was like the rumbling of giant waves upon the rocks; for a mermaid to cry was a thing unheard of and it troubled the old sea king greatly.
"Go, then," he said at last, "but go with care. Cover your tail with a dress, such as their women wear. Go quietly, and make sure that none shall see you. And return by high tide, or you may not return at all."
"I shall take care, Father!" cried Morveren, excited. "No one shall snare me like a herring!"
Llyr gave her a beautiful dress crusted with pearls and sea jade and coral and other ocean jewels. It covered her tail, and she covered her shining hair with a net, and so disguised she set out for the church and the land of men.
Slippery scales and fish's tail are not made for walking, and it was difficult for Morveren to get up the path to the church. Nor was she used to the dress of an earth woman dragging behind. But get there she did, pulling herself forward by grasping on the trees, until she was at the very door of the church. She was just in time for the closing hymn. Some folks were looking down at their hymnbooks and some up at the choir, so, since none had eyes in the backs of their heads, they did not see Morveren. But she saw them, and Mathew as well. He was as handsome as an angel, and when he sang it was like a harp from heaven -- although Morveren, of course, being a mermaid, knew nothing of either.
So each night thereafter, Morveren would dress and come up to the church, to look and to listen, staying but a few minutes and always leaving before the last note faded and in time to catch the swell of high tide. And night by night, month by month, Mathew grew taller and his voice grew deeper and stronger (though Morveren neither grew nor changed, for that is the way of mermaids). And so it went for most of a year, until the evening when Morveren lingered longer than usual. She had heard Mathew sing one verse, and then another, and begin a third. Each refrain was lovelier than the one before, and Morveren caught her breath in a sigh.
It was just a little sigh, softer than the whisper of a wave. But it was enough for Mathew to hear, and he looked to the back of the church and saw the mermaid. Morveren's eyes were shining, and the net had slipped from her head and her hair was wet and gleaming, too. Mathew stopped his singing. He was struck silent by the look of her -- and by his love for her. For these things will happen.
Morveren was frightened. Mathew had seen her, and her father had warned that none must look at her. Besides, the church was warm and dry, and merpeople must be cool and wet. Morveren felt herself shrivelling, and turned in haste from the door.
"Stop!" cried Mathew boldly. "Wait!" And he ran down the aisle of the church and out the door after her.
Then all the people turned, startled, and their hymn-books fell from their laps.
Morveren tripped, tangled in her dress, and would have fallen had not Mathew reached her side and caught her.
"Stay!" he begged. "Whoever ye be, do not leave!"
Tears, real tears, as salty as the sea itself, rolled down Morveren's cheeks.
"I cannot stay. I am a sea creature, and must go back where I belong."
Mathew stared at her and saw the tip of her fish tail poking out from beneath the dress. But that mattered not at all to him.
"Then I will go with ye. For with ye is where I belong."
He picked Morveren up, and she threw her arms about his neck. He hurried down the path with her, toward the ocean's edge.
And all the people from the church saw this.
"Mathew, stop!" they shouted. "Hold back!"
"No! No, Mathew!" cried that boy's mother.
But Mathew was bewitched with love for the mermaid, and ran the faster with her toward the sea.
Then the fishermen of Zennor gave chase, and all others, too, even Mathew's mother. But Mathew was quick and strong and outdistanced them. And Morveren was quick and clever. She tore the pearls and coral from her dress and flung them on the path. The fishermen were greedy, even as men are now, and stopped in their chase to pick up the gems. Only Mathew's mother still ran after them.
The tide was going out. Great rocks thrust up from the dark water. Already it was too shallow for Morveren to swim. But Mathew plunged ahead into the water, stumbling in to his knees. Quickly his mother caught hold of his fisherman's jersey. Still Mathew pushed on, until the sea rose to his waist, and then his shoulders. Then the waters closed over Morveren and Mathew, and his mother was left with only a bit of yarn in her hand, like a fishing line with nothing on it.
Never again were Mathew and Morveren seen by the people of Zennor. They had gone to live in the land of Llyr, in golden sand castles built far below the waters in a blue-green world.
But the people of Zennor heard Mathew. For he sang to Morveren both day and night, love songs and lullabies. Nor did he sing for her ears only. Mathew learned songs that told of the sea as well. His voice rose up soft and high if the day was to be fair, deep and low if Llyr was going to make the waters boil. From his songs, the fishermen of Zennor knew when it was safe to put to sea, and when it was wise to anchor snug at home.
There are some still who find meanings in the voices of the waves and understand the whispers of the winds. These are the ones who say Mathew sings yet, to them that will listen