Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Address to the Mermaid
By Ebenezer Bailey (1795–1839)
 
          What have we here? a man or a fish? a fish; he smells like a fish: a very ancient and fish-like smell!—A strange fish!—I shall laugh myself to death at this PUPPY-HEADED> monster—a most scurvy monster!      SHAKSPEARE.


ART 1 thou indeed, what thou would’st seem to be,
  Imprison’d in that curious box of thine,
A veritable daughter of the sea,
  Like Aphrodité born in foam and brine?
Though, I must say, were such the queen of Love,        5
I marvel greatly at the taste of Jove.
 
But thou, perhaps, some ages since, wast fair,
  The envy of all mermaids far around;
Then that bald pate of thine with azure hair,
  That undulated with the waves, was crown’d;        10
Thou art, howe’er, a mermaid’s mummy now,
And with a wig should’st hide that wrinkled brow.
 
Hast thou e’er sported in the coral bowers,
  That deep beneath the Indian waters grow,
Where gems bud forth, and wave the sea-green flowers,        15
  With graceful motion, as the currents flow?
For there the tempests have no power, that sweep
With madness o’er the surface of the deep.
 
Perchance ’t was thy delight, in former times,
  To rest by moon-light on the ocean-rocks,        20
And to the hum of waters chant thy rhymes,
  Or with those fingers curl thy humid locks;
Then wo to any luckless bark for aye,
Whose pilot listen’d to thy treacherous lay.
 
Is it not glorious to behold the gems,        25
  That shine like stars in ocean’s crystal caves?—
The groves, where emeralds bud on amber stems,
  Moving harmonious with the rocking waves?—
And all the gorgeous mysteries, that sleep
Beneath the endless waters of the deep?        30
 
There, we may guess, the Nereids delight
  To build their garnish’d grottoes, fair to see,
With domes of living diamonds, that as bright
  Shine out, as suns in the immensity
Of heaven, while all their ruby pavements blush,        35
As through their clefts the shouting waters rush
 
There shells of pleasant forms and nameless hues
  To alabaster columns cling; and there
Such flowers spring up, as never drank the dews,
  Nor breathed the freshness of the upper air;        40
But fairer, lovelier far, their tints that glow
On the pure sand, like rainbow hues on snow.
 
And mighty Argosies, that moved in pride,
  Like living things, along the troubled deep,
Lie many a fathom now beneath the tide;        45
  And gallant chiefs, and fearless sailors sleep,
In kingly state, on beds of pearl and gold,
Who for a biscuit had their birthrights sold.
 
Oh! could’st thou tell,—if thou indeed hast seen,
  “For in those eyes there is no speculation,”—        50
The wonders hid beneath the ocean green,
  T’ would mad the knowing ones with admiration,
And many a learned bachelor would swear
That thou, in spite of all thy teeth, art fair!
 
But why should I ask questions of a thing,        55
  That hears not, sees not, knows not,—only grins?
And grin you may, so long as quarters ring,
  For, says the adage, “let him laugh that wins!
Being a siren, well may you entice
The unwary once,—you cannot cheat me twice.        60
 
Would I possess’d a charm to ope the cell
  Of glass, when thou art fasten’d like a reel
Within a bottle: I could never tell
  How this got in; but could my fingers feel
That scaly skin of thine, there ’s “a shrewd doubt”        65
’T would be no puzzle why you ’ll not come out.
 
But go in peace, thou thing of “shreds and patches”—
  Go not, howe’er, where Doctor Mitchill is;
For he will mangle thee, if he but catches
  A glimpse of thy uncouth and monkey phiz,        70
And then will swear, in spite of thy long tail,
Thou art no more a fish than was his whale!
 
Note 1. Exhibited in this country some years since. [back]
 
 
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