Robert Graves

Mermaid, Dragon, Fiend

Poem by Robert Graves

In my childhood rumors ran
Of a world beyond our door-
Terrors to the life of man
That the highroad held in store.

Of mermaids' doleful game
In deep water I heard tell,
Of lofty dragons belching flame,
Of the hornèd fiend of Hell.

Tales like these were too absurd
For my laughter-loving ear:
Soon I mocked at all I heard,
Though with cause indeed for fear.

Now I know the mermaid kin
I find them bound by natural laws:
They have neither tail nor fin,
But are deadlier for that cause.

Dragons have no darting tongues,
Teeth saw-edged, nor rattling scales;
No fire issues from their lungs,
No black poison from their tails:

For they are creatures of dark air,
Unsubstantial tossing forms,
Thunderclaps of man's despair
In mid-whirl of mental storms.

And there's a true and only fiend
Worse than prophets prophesy,
Whose full powers to hurt are screened
Lest the race of man should die.

Ever in vain will courage plot
The dragon's death, in coat of proof;
Or love abjure the mermaid grot;
Or faith denounce the cloven hoof.

Mermaids will not be denied
The last bubbles of our shame,
The Dragon flaunts an unpierced hide,
The true fiend governs in God's name.