Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Matthew Arnold

The Neckan

In summer on the headlands,

The Baltic Sea along,

Sits Neckan with his harp of gold,

And sings his plaintive song.

Green rolls beneath the headlands,

Green rolls the Baltic Sea;

And there, below the Neckan's feet,

His wife and children be.

He sings not of the ocean,

Its shells and roses pale;

Of earth, of earth, the Neckan sings,

He hath no other tale.

He sits upon the headlands,

And sings a mournful stave

Of all he saw and felt. on earth,

Far from the kind sea-wave.

Sings how, a knight, he wandered

By castle, field, and town—

But earthly knights have harder hearts

Than the sea-children own.

Sings of his earthly bridal—

Priests, knights and ladies gay.

"—And who art thou," the priest began.

"Sir Knight, who wedd'st today?"

"I am no knight," he answered;

"From the sea waves I come."

The knights drew sword, the ladies screamed,

The surpliced priest stood dumb.

He sings how from the chapel

He vanished with his bride,

And bore her down to the sea halls,

Beneath the salt sea tide.

He sings how she sits weeping

'Mid shells that round her lie.

"False Neckan shares my bed," she weeps;

"No Christian mate have I."

He sings how through the billows

He rose to earth again,

And sought a priest to sign the cross,

That Neckan Heaven might gain.

He sings how, on an evening,

Beneath the birch tree cool,

He sate and played his harp of gold,

Beside the river pool.

Beside the pool sate Neckan—

Tears filled his mild blue eye.

On his white mule, across the bridge,

A cassocked priest rode by.

"Why sittest thou there, O Neckan,

And play'st thy harp of gold?

Sooner shall this my staff bear leaves,

Than thou shalt Heaven behold.—"

But lo! the staff is budded!

It green'd, it branched, it waved.

"O ruth of God," the priest cried out,

"This lost sea creature saved!"

The cassocked priest rode onwards,

And vanished with his mule;

But Neckan in the twilight gray

Wept by the river pool.

He wept: "The earth hath kindness,

The sea, the starry poles;

Earth, sea, and sky, and God above—

But ah, not human souls!"

In summer, on the headlands,

The Baltic Sea along,

Sits Neckan with his harp of gold,

And sings this plaintive song.