“Alas! what perils do environ
That man who meddles with a siren!”—Hudibrus.
On Margate beach, where the sick one roams,
And the sentimental reads;
Where the maiden flirts, and the widow comes
Like the ocean — to cast her weeds; —
Where urchins wander to pick up shells,
And the Cit to spy at the ships —
Like the water gala at Sadler’s Wells —
And the Chandler for watery dips; —
There’s a maiden sits by the ocean brim,
As lovely and fair as sin!
But woe, deep water and woe to him,
That she snareth like Peter Fin!
Her head is crowned with pretty sea-wares,
And her locks are golden loose,
And seek to her feet, like other folks’ heirs,
To stand, of course, in her shoes!
And all day long she combeth them well,
With a sea-shark’s prickly jaw;
And her mouth is just like a rose-lipped shell,
The fairest that man e’er saw!
And the Fishmonger, humble as love may be
Hath planted his seat by her side;
“Good even, fair maid! Is thy lover at sea,
To make thee so watch the tide?”
She turned about with her pearly brows,
And clasped him by the hand;
“Come, love, with me; I’ve a bonny house
On the golden Goodwin sand.”
And then she gave him a siren kiss,
No honeycomb e’er was sweeter;
Poor wretch! how little he dreamt for this
That Peter should be salt-Peter:
And away with her prize to the wave she leapt,
Not walking, as damsels do,
With toe and heel, as she ought to have stept,
But she hopped like a Kangaroo;
One plunge, and then the victim was blind,
Whilst they galloped across the tide;
At last, on the bank he waked in his mind,
And the Beauty was by his side
One half on the sand, and half in the sea,
But his hair began to stiffen;
For when he looked where her feet should be,
She had no more feet than Miss Biffen!
But a scaly tail, of a dolphin’s growth,
In the dabbling brine did soak:
At last she opened her pearly mouth,
Like an oyster, and thus she spoke:
“You crimpt my father, who was a skate —
And my sister you sold — a maid;
So here remain for a fish’ry fate,
For lost you are, and betrayed!”
And away she went, with a sea-gull’s scream,
And a splash of her saucy tail;
In a moment he lost the silvery gleam
That shone on her splended mail!
The sun went down with a blood-red flame,
And the sky grew cloudy and black,
And the tumbling billows like leap-frog came,
Each over the other’s back!
Ah me! it had been a beautiful scene,
With the safe terra-firma round;
But the green water-hillocks all seem’d to him
Like those in a churchyard ground;
And Christians love in the turf to lie,
Not in watery graves to be;
Nay, the very fishes will sooner die
On the land than in the sea.
And whilst he stood, the watery strife
Encroached on every hand,
And the ground decreased — his moments of life
Seemed measured, like Time’s, by sand;
And still the waters foamed in, like ale,
In front, and on either flank,
He knew that Goodwin and Co. must fail,
There was such a run on the bank.
A little more, and a little more,
The surges came tumbling in,
He sang the evening hymn twice o’er,
And thought of every sin!
Each flounder and plaice lay cold at his heart,
As cold as his marble slab;
And he thought he felt, in every part,
The pincers of scalded crab.
The squealing lobsters that he had boiled,
And the little potted shrimps,
All the horny prawns he had ever spoiled,
Gnawed into his soul, like imps!
And the billows were wandering to and fro,
And the glorious sun was sunk,
And Day, getting black in the face, as though
Of the nightshade she had drunk!
Had there been but a smuggler’s cargo adrift,
One tub, or keg, to be seen,
It might have given his spirits a lift
Or an anker where Hope might lean!
But there was not a box or a beam afloat,
To raft him from that sad place;
Not a skiff, not a yawl, or a mackerel boat,
Nor a smack upon Neptune’s face.
At last, his lingering hopes to buoy,
He saw a sail and a mast,
And called “Ahoy!”— but it was not a hoy,
And so the vessel went past.
And with saucy wing that flapped in his face,
The wild bird about him flew,
With a shrilly scream, that twitted his case,
“Why, thou art a sea-gull too!”
And lo! the tide was over his feet;
Oh! his heart began to freeze,
And slowly to pulse:— in another beat
The wave was up to his knees!
He was deafened amidst the mountain tops,
And the salt spray blinded his eyes,
And washed away the other salt drops
That grief had caused to arise:—
But just as his body was all afloat,
And the surges above him broke,
He was saved from the hungry deep by a boat
Of Deal —(but builded of oak).
The skipper gave him a dram, as he lay,
And chafed his shivering skin;
And the Angel returned that was flying away
With the spirit of Peter Fin!
† Charles Lamb had been reading these verses when he wrote to his friend Dibdin, in June, 1896, and called him “Peter Fin Junior.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51