Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, LITTLE SEAL-SKIN, by ELIZA KEARY

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LITTLE SEAL-SKIN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The fisherman walked up the hill
Last Line: "she slipped into the sea!"
Subject(s): Fish & Fishing; Seals (animals); Anglers

THE Fisherman walked up the hill,
His boat lay on the sand,
His net was on his shoulder still,
His home a mile inland.
And as he walked amongst the whin
He saw a little white seal-skin,
Which he took up in his hand.
Then "How," said he, "can this thing be?
A seal-skin, and no seal within?"
Thus pondered he,
Partly in fear,
Till he remembered what he'd heard
Of creatures in the sea, --
Sea-men and women, who are stirred
One day in every year
To drop their seal-skins on the sand,
To leave the sea, and seek the land

For twelve long hours,
Playing about in sweet sunshine
Amongst the cornfields, with corn-flowers,
Wild roses and woodbine:
Till night comes on, and then they flit
Adown the fields, and sit
Upon the shore and put their seal-skins on,
And slip into the sea, and they are gone.

The Fisherman stroked the fur
Of the little white seal-skin,
Soft as silk, and white as snow;
And he said to himself, "I know
That some little sea-woman lived in
This seal-skin, perhaps not long ago.
I wonder what has become of her!
And why she left this on the whin,
Instead of slipping it on again,
When all the little sea-women and men
Went hurrying down to the sea!
Ah! well, she never meant
It for me,
That I should take it. But I will,
Home to my house upon the hill,"
Said the Fisherman and home he went.

The Fisher dozed before his fire,
The night was cold outside,

The bright full moon was rising higher
Above the swelling tide,
And the wind brought the sound of breakers nigher,
Even to the hill side;
When suddenly
Something broke at the cottage-door,
Like the plash
Of a little wave on a pebbly shore;
And as water frets in the backward drain
Of the wave, seeming to fall in pain,
There came a wailing after the plash. --
The Fisherman woke, and said, "Is it rain?"
Then he rose from his seat,
And opened his door a little way,
But soon shut it again,
With a kind of awe;
For the prettiest little sea-woman lay
On the grass at his feet
That you ever saw:
She began to sob and to say,
"Who has stolen my skin from me?
And who is there will take me in?
For I have lost my little seal-skin,
And I can't get back to the sea."

The Fisherman stroked the fur
Of the downy white seal-skin,
And he said, "Shall I give it her?
But then she would get in,
And hurry away to the sea,
And not come back to me,
And I should be sorry all my life,
I want her so for my little wife."
The Fisherman thought for a minute,
Then he carried the seal-skin to
A secret hole in the thatch,
Where he hid it cleverly, so
That a sharp-sighted person might go
In front of the hole and not catch
A glimpse of the seal-skin within it.
After this he lifted the latch
Of his door once more,
But the night was darker, for
The moon was swimming under a cloud,
So the Fisherman couldn't see
The little sea-woman plainly,
Seeing a fleck of white foam only,
That was sobbing aloud
As before.
"Little sea-woman," said the Fisherman,
"Will you come home to me,
Will you help me to work and help me to save,
Care for my house and me,
And the little children that we shall have?"
"Yes, Fisherman," said she.

So the Fisherman had his way,
And seven years of life
Passed by him like one happy day;
But, as for his sea wife,
She sorrowed for the sea alway,
And loved not her land life.
Morning, and evening, and all day,
She would say
To herself -- "The sea! the sea!"
And at night, when dreaming,
She stretched her arms about her, seeming
To seek little Willie,
It was the sea
She would have clasped, not he --
The great sea's purple water,
Dearer to her than little son or daughter.
Yet she was kind
To her children three,
Harry, fair Alice, and baby Willie;
And set her mind
To keep things orderly.
"Only," thought she,
"If I could but find
That little seal-skin I lost one day."
She didn't know
That her husband had it hidden away;
Nor he
That she longed for it so.

One evening, as he climbed the hill,
The Fisherman found her amongst the whin,
Sobbing, saying, "My little seal-skin --
Who has stolen my skin from me?
How shall I find it, and get in,
And hurry away to the sea?"
Then "She shall have her will,"
Said he.

Next morning, when he rose to go
A fishing, and his wife still slept,
He stole
The seal-skin from that secret hole
Where he had kept
It, and flung it on a chair,
Saying, "She will be glad to find it there
When I am gone,
And yet
Perhaps she will not put it on,"
He said, "Nor go away."
In sleeping his wife wept;
Then the Fisherman took his net,
And crept
Into the chill air.

The night drew on -- the air was still,
Homeward the Fisher climbed the hill.
All day he'd thought, "She will not go;"
And now "She has not," pondered he.
"She is not gone," he said. "I know
There is a lamp in our window,
Put ready on the sill
To guide me home, and I shall see
The dear light glimmering presently,
Just as I round the hill."
But when he turned, there was no light
To guide him homeward through the night.
Then "I am late," he said,
"And, maybe, she was weary
Looking so long for me.
She lays the little ones in bed
Well content,
In the inner room, where I shall find her,
And where she went,
Forgetting to leave the light behind her."

So he came to his cottage door,
And threw it open wide;
But stood a breathing space, before
He dared to look inside.
No fire was in the fireplace, nor
A light on any side;
But a little heap lay on the floor,

And the voice of a baby cried.
Rocking and moaning on the floor,
That little heap
Was the children, tired with crying,
Trying to sleep,
Moaning and rocking to and fro;
But Baby Willie hindered the trying
By wailing so.

Then "Wife! wife!" said the Fisherman,
"Come from the inner room."
There was no answer, and he ran
Searching into the gloom.
"Wife! wife! why don't you come?
The children want you, and I've come home."
"Mammy's gone, Daddy," said Harry --
"Gone into the sea;
She'll never come back to carry
Tired Baby Willie.
It's no use now, Daddy, looking about;
I can tell you just how it all fell out.

"There was a seal-skin
In the kitchen --
A little crumpled thing;
I can't think how it came there;
But this morning
Mammy found it on a chair,

And when she began
To feel it, she dropped
It on the floor --
But snatched it up again, and ran
Straight out at the door,
And never stopped
Till she reached the shore.

"Then we three, Daddy,
Ran after, crying, 'Take us to the sea!
Wait for us, Mammy, we are coming too!
Here's Alice, Willie can't keep up with you!
Mammy, stop -- just for a minute or two!'
But Alice said, 'Maybe
She's making us a boat
Out of the seal-skin cleverly,
And by and by she'll float
It on the water from the sands
For us.' Then Willie clapt his hands
And shouted, 'Run on, Mammy, to the sea,
And we are coming. Willie understands.'

"At last we came to where the hill
Slopes straight down to the beach,
And there we all stood breathless, still,
Fast clinging each to each.
We saw her sitting upon a stone,
Putting the little seal-skin on.

Oh! Mammy! Mammy!
She never said good-bye, Daddy,
She didn't kiss us three;
She just put the little seal-skin on,
And slipped into the sea!
Oh! Mammy's gone, Daddy -- Mammy's gone!
She slipped into the sea!"

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