THE water rushed, the water swelled,
A fisherman sat by,
And gazed upon his dancing float
With tranquil-dreaming eye.
And as he sits, and as he looks,
The gurgling waves arise;
A maid, all bright with water drops,
Stands straight before his eyes.
She sang to him, she spake to him:
“My fish why dost thou snare,
With human wit and human guile,
Into the killing air?
Couldst see how happy fishes live
Under the stream so clear,
Thyself would plunge into the stream,
And live for ever there.
“Bathe not the lovely sun and moon
Within the cool, deep sea,
And with wave-breathing faces rise
In twofold witchery?
Lure not the misty heaven-deeps,
So beautiful and blue?
Lures not thine image, mirrored in
The Fresh eternal dew?
The water rushed, the water swelled,
It clasped his feet, I wis’
A thrill went through his yearning heart,
As when two lovers kiss!
She spake to him, she sang to him:
Resistless was her strain;
Half drew him in, half lured him in;
He ne’er was seen again.
Written 1779, translation by John Storer Cobb, first published 1902. This poem inspired the painting The Fisherman and the Syren by Frederic Lord Leighton.